Abdomen | Gastroenterology | Lice (Disease)


Lice infestation on the human body (also known as pediculosis) is very common. Cases number in the hundreds of millions worldwide. While lice can occasionally cause significant illness (typhus, relapsing fever, and trench fever), a lice infestation is generally more of an itchy and embarrassing experience than a serious medical problem. Three distinct presentations of lice infection exist and each is caused by a unique parasite.

Causes and Risk factors

Head lice (Pediculus humanus capitis) is by far and away the most common infestation and favors no particular socioeconomic group. A genetically close cousin, Pediculus humanus corporis, is responsible for body lice and is more commonly associated with poverty, overcrowding, and poor hygiene. Pubic lice (crabs) is caused by Pthirus pubis and is transmitted by intimate and/or sexual contact.

Lice infestation is a uniquely human experience. Lice do not jump or fly from host to host. They cannot be transmitted via animals but may be transferred by person to person via direct contact and by fomites (inanimate objects -- for example, caps, combs, sheets, etc).

Diagnosis and Treatment

Your doctor can recommend a medicated shampoo, cream rinse, or lotion to kill the lice. These may be over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medications, depending on what treatments have already been tried. Medicated lice treatments usually kill the lice and nits, but it may take a few days for the itching to stop. For very resistant lice, an oral medication might be prescribed. ...

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