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What is Pediculosis?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 31 October 2016
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Infestation of lice on the human body is called pediculosis. Pediculosis refers to the three types of lice that can live on the body, the head, and in the public hair. Each type of lice is a bit different and requires different forms of treatment.

Head lice are the most common cause of pediculosis, and most commonly occurs in school age children. Head lice are quite small, making them sometimes difficult to spot unless one is really looking. More often, lice inspection shows nits, the small lice eggs that attach to the base of the hair shaft.

Normal treatment for pediculosis due to head lice is washing the hair with head lice shampoo, which normally contains pyretrin or permethrin. Some mousses containing permethrin have also been developed. These chemicals kill lice, but normally one must apply a second application of the shampoo about a week after the first application. Further, after shampooing, the hair must be combed thoroughly to rid the hair of nits.

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The body louse appears very similar to the head louse, but treatment differs. Pediculosis due to body lice tends to be much less common. Nits usually attach to clothing, and the person infected with this form of pediculosis may notice small bites on the skin, as this is the normal method by which the louse stays alive. Body lice are slightly more dangerous than head lice because the lice can carry and pass on to humans, forms of typhoid fever.

In both head lice and body lice, washing the clothing and bedclothes are important. Washing children’s stuffed animals is also important as these may harbor lice. People with pediculosis due to body lice may also be treated with antibiotics, since this can halt a typhus infection.

Pediculosis due to the crab or pubic louse most often infests the pubic hair. However, it can also be present on hair under the arms, on the legs, or on people’s beards. This louse is similar in appearance to head and body lice, with a somewhat smaller head.

As with head lice, the pubic hair is washed with lice shampoo. All bedclothes and clothing need to be washed too. Many find it helpful to shave the pubic hair as this effectively eliminates a place for the nits to live. Pediculosis of this type is most common among those who are sexually active, as transmission most commonly occurs during sexual activity.

All forms of pediculosis can be treated, but some scientists are concerned that pubic lice and head lice are now showing some resistance to chemicals used to kill them. One new method for treating head lice is to use hot air, from a device called a LouseBuster, to kill lice eggs. The same results cannot be accomplished with a blowdryer. The LouseBuster is still in test phase, but preliminary tests show it kills about 98% of nits as well as any lice. It may ultimately prove a more effective way to rid the hair of lice.

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