Lice Infection

Lice are a common problem worldwide. Because the louse is easily acquired through close contact, this wingless parasite is difficult to completely rid off. Lice infection is also known as pediculosis. Lice are tiny parasites that love to feed on blood. The classic presentation is a school aged child who has a persistent itch. In the majority of cases, the lice are acquired by close contact or by sharing of personal belongings.

In general, lice are not life threatening but having lice infection is embarrassing and creates a taboo of having poor personal hygiene.

Lice survive as long as they are on the human body. In the environment, lice can only survive for 48 hours. They measure about 2-4 mm and can be visible to the naked eye. The eggs of the lice are called nits. These nits are attached firmly to the hair shaft and do not easily come off. The life cycle of lice on the humans is about 30 days.

There are several types of lice infections. These include:

Head lice
are a common problem all over the world and estimates from the CDC indicate that each year close to 12 million are infected with the head lice. Head lice are an infection of the younger child. Children who attend day cares, kindergarten and elementary schools are most prone to head lice. No one is immune from head lice. The parasite infects all races, irrespective of social status. One point of note, head lice infections are rare in blacks, and this is believed to be due to the hair type.

The head lice typically affect the scalp and can be visualized. Occasionally some lice may be seen at the base of the neck, over the ears or on the frontal scalp where the hair is thin. The lice produce eggs called nits which attach to the hair shaft. The eggs usually hatch in 7-10 days resulting in worsening of the infection.

Head lice do not infect dogs or cats.

Body lice: Unlike the head lice, the body lice prefer to stay in the seams and clothing folds. They are easily acquired after sleeping in an infected bed by direct contact with the clothing or sleeping next to an infected person. In some rare cases, body lice are also known to spread some infections. Body lice can transmit diseases such as typhus and trench fever.

Body lice are more common in the socially underprivileged and homeless individuals. It is a common infection when there is overcrowding conditions and hygiene is poor. The lice have a tendency to occur in unwashed clothes.

Pubic lice: Pubic lice are a common infection in adults and are also known as crabs. They may occur in the pubic hair or on the eye lashes. These lice can be found in the pubis, near the vagina and even anus. They are acquired by sexual contact or close contact with infected clothing or bedding. Toilet seats do not spread pubic lice because most lice are not able to survive outside .Wearing condoms does not protect from pubic lice.

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