What is lice? Lice are parasitic insects that live on the human hair and scalp, body and pubic area.

They survive on human blood. The head lice, body lice and pubic crab lice are completely different from each other. Among them, only the body louse is known to spread diseases.

Lice infestation commonly spreads through close personal contacts.

Different types of lice:

  • Head lice:

Head lice infestation is commonly known as pediculosis and spreads through close person-to-person contact. Head lice infect the head and neck and lay their eggs on the base of the hair shaft. They cannot fly or hop but move by crawling.

The female louse lays its eggs on the hair and glues the eggs onto the hair shaft with glue that it secretes from its body. This secretion is very similar to the keratin of the hair, and the louse attaches its eggs at an optimum distance from the scalp so that it is at the right temperature for hatching. The eggs hatch in around seven to ten days. The eggs hatch into a nymph which remains attached to the hair.

A female louse lays about three to four eggs daily, that is more than seventy eggs in her life span. Adult lice live for about four weeks (see head lice life cycle for more details). The quick multiplication is the main reason why lice are able to infest a person’s hair very quickly.

Fortunately the human head louse is not a disease carrier, and it is possible to treat it easily. Getting rid of lice is not that difficult, but keeping them off can be quite tough. This is especially true for children who spend a lot of time together.

  • Body lice:

Body lice live and lay their eggs on cloths and only move to the body surface to feed themselves. They are known to spread diseases among individuals.  Body lice infestations spread through close person-to-person contact and are limited to individuals who live in crowded areas and have poor hygiene habits.

  • Pubic ‘crab’ lice:

Pubic lice are found on the pubic regions but sometimes may be present on other parts of the body like eyebrows, eyelashes, beard, moustache etc. Pubic lice infestations, commonly referred as pthiriasis, are spread through sexual contact.

Lice infestation treatment options:

  • Head lice:

Head lice treatment is recommended for a person who is infected with head lice. All family members as well as close members should be checked for active infestation. If infested, and ONLY if infested, they should be treated accordingly.

A nit comb is a very good tool that fights head lice infestations. Medicated shampoo or a prescription anti lice formulas can be used in the treatment of head lice.

Lindane shampoo is a prescription medication used in the treatment of head lice, but since it is toxic to the brain, its use in lice infestation is limited. You can also use home remedies for lice and nits.

Apart from family members, anything that comes into contact with the hair should be treated to prevent further infestation. They include mattresses, bedding, clothes, towels, head rest, car seats etc.

  •  Body lice:

The best treatment for body lice is to improve the personal hygiene of the infested person which includes changing clean clothes frequently (at least once in every week). Clothes, bedding, towels etc should be washed in hot water and dried.

A treatment may be used to kill the body lice of the infected person. But if proper hygiene is maintained by the infested person, then a treatment may not be required.

  •  Pubic lice:

1% permethrin lotions are very effective in the treatment of pubic lice. This medication is safe and effective in the control of pubic lice when used exactly according to the instructions provided in the package.

You can also apply a mousse containing a mixture of piperonyl butoxide and pyrethrins.

A lice infestation can be extremely irritating and proper precautions should be taken to remove it completely. Once the infestation is completely eliminated, proactive precautions are taken to prevent the problem from reoccurring.

As far as head lice are concerned, you can take very simple and effective head lice prevention measures such as putting a few drops of tea tree oil behind the ears and in the neck area.


Credits of photograph on this page:  CDC/ Joseph Strycharz, Ph.D.; Kyong Sup Yoon, Ph.D.; Frank Collins, Ph.D.