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Kinds of Lice

Kinds of Lice

Lice are tiny parasitic insects that feed on human blood. Three different species of these wingless insects infest the human head, body and pubic region. Lice cannot fly or hop. They spread from person to person through close contact. Lice infestations can be cleared with over-the-counter or prescription products.

Head Lice

Pediculus humanus capitis is the lice species that infests the human head. The insects bite the skin of the scalp and neck to take a blood meal. The bites cause itching, as does the crawling of the insects. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports itching may not develop for 4 to 6 weeks in a person who has not previously had head lice. Head lice lay small white eggs called nits, which stick to the hair shaft close to the scalp. Head lice most commonly affect preschool and elementary school children with girls disproportionately affected. Contrary to popular belief, an infestation with head lice is not related to a person's cleanliness or lack thereof. Close head contact with someone who has lice is all it takes to contract these parasitic insects. Head lice do not transmit disease.

Body Lice

Pediculus humanus corporis is the body louse; it is also known as the clothes louse. Unlike head lice, body lice live in clothing or bed linens. They crawl to the skin only to feed, and then return to their normal habitat. Body lice are usually found where people are living in squalid conditions with few opportunities to bathe or change clothes. Refugee camps, homeless encampments and the crowded, unsanitary conditions associated with natural disasters are prime conditions for body lice infestations. Body lice spread by close personal contact or contact with infested clothing, blankets or towels. Louse bites cause itching and possibly a rash. The CDC reports long-standing body lice infestations may cause areas of abnormally thick skin due to repetitive scratching. Body lice are a health concern because these insects can transmit serious diseases including epidemic typhus, epidemic relapsing fever and trench fever. Historically, these diseases have caused large numbers of deaths in wartime.

Pubic Lice

Phthirus pubis is the pubic louse. A pubic louse infestation is commonly referred to as having crabs. Pubic lice live on the body and are usually most concentrated in the pubic hair. With heavy infestation, however, these lice may crawl to other course body hairs including male facial or chest hair, armpit hair, and the eyelashes and eyebrows. The nits adhere to the base of the hairs in the affected areas. Itching is a common symptom. Small blue spots called maculae cerulae may also be present on the affected skin. They represent small areas of bleeding under the skin after a bite. Sexual contact with an infested person is the most common way to contract pubic lice. Pubic lice do not transmit disease.

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