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What is Head - Body Lice? Print E-mail
Written by Kimberly Vaughn, MD   
Tuesday, 20 October 2009
Lice are tiny, gray insects that can affect 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.

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 infected with head lice has nothing to do with poor hygiene.

Body lice are common among people who are unable to wash their clothing regularly. This condition is sometimes called "vagabond's disease" and is typically seen in the homeless.

What are the treatments for the disease?
Head lice are treated with shampoos containing permethrin, pyrethrin, or malathion. 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 can't be washed, such as hats, coats, and scarves, should be placed in an airtight plastic bag for three weeks.

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 be toxic and build up in the blood system.

What happens after treatment for the disease?
After treatment, lice and nits should be gone.
The healthcare provider 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.

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

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