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Head Lice And Body Lice

Alternate Names

  • pediculosis
  • Head and body lice

Definition

Lice are tiny, gray insects that can infest a person's hair or skin. Head lice attach themselves to the hair shafts. Body lice live in the seams of clothing and come out to bite the person's skin.

What is going on in the body?

Head lice cause itching and scratch marks on the scalp. Body lice actually live in the seams of clothing, not on the skin. The lice will leave the clothing to bite the infected person. The lice leave eggs, also called nits, attached to the hair shafts.

Risks

What are the causes and risks of the disease?

Head lice spread by head-to-head contact, such as sharing hats and combs or sleeping next to another person. It is most common in school-age children.
Becoming infested with head lice has nothing to do with poor hygiene. Body lice are common among people who are unable to wash their clothing regularly.

Prevention

What can be done to prevent the disease?

To prevent body lice, a person should bathe and wash clothing regularly. Head lice infestation can be prevented by not sharing sleeping mats, combs, brushes, hats, helmets, and other headgear, and by treating persons appropriately and promptly who are found to have lice.

Diagnosed

How is the disease diagnosed?

The healthcare professional can diagnose lice when nits or lice are found on the body, on the hair shafts, or in the clothes.

Long Term Effects

What are the long-term effects of the disease?

If lice are not treated promptly and effectively, the individual may have chronic itching and inflamed skin. Severe long-term untreated cases of body lice can lead infections and loss of energy.

Other Risks

What are the risks to others?

Both types of lice are highly contagious.

Treatments

What are the treatments for the disease?

Head lice are treated with shampoos containing permethrin (i.e., Elimite, Nix), pyrethrin (i.e., A-200 Pyrinate, Rid), or malathion (i.e., Ovide). In rare cases, oral sulmethoxazole/trimethoprim (i.e., Bactrim, Cotrim, Septra, Sulfatrim) may be necessary.
At one time, lindane (i.e., Kwell) was considered a first-line treatment for lice. Now, however, the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an advisory that products containing lindane are only to be used if treatment with the other agents cannot be tolerated or has failed. Lindane, if used, must be used with caution and precisely as directed.
Nits are removed by combing the hair with a fine-tooth comb or by pulling them out one by one. Clothing should be washed in hot water that is at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit, and then dried in a hot dryer.
Carpets and upholstered furniture should be vacuumed. Combs and brushes should be soaked for an hour in a solution containing anti-lice shampoo. Items that cannot be washed, such as hats, coats, and scarves, should be placed in an airtight plastic bag for three weeks.

Side Effects

What are the side effects of the treatments?

Resistance to head lice treatment is increasing. People need to make sure that all the lice have been killed. Shampoos containing permethrin, pyrethrin, or malathion can cause allergic reactions and rashes. It is important to use the shampoo only as directed. If a person uses the medication too many times, it can build up to toxic levels in the body. Lindane can cause seizures as well as itching and rash.

After Treatment

What happens after treatment for the disease?

After treatment, lice and nits should be gone.
A healthcare professional should be contacted if any of the following conditions apply:
  • Itching interferes with sleep.
  • There is a rash that does not clear after one week of treatment.
  • A rash clears and then returns.
  • New eggs appear in the hair.
  • Any sores start to spread or look infected.

Monitor

How is the disease monitored?

To monitor for lice, a person can recheck the hair shafts for nits. A healthcare professional should be consulted if itching or redness persists after home treatment. Any other new or worsening symptoms should also be reported.

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