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Lice are tiny parasites that feed on blood drawn from the body. These little bugs spread from person to person easily, and affect nearly 6-12 million people every year. There are three “types” of lice, that affect different parts of the body:
- Head lice: These wingless insects draw blood from the scalp and plant their eggs on shafts of hair. Head lice most commonly live around the nape of the neck and the hairline above the ears.
- Body lice: Less common than head lice, these insects live on clothes and bedding. Body lice are more common among individuals who do not wash or clean their clothes regularly.
- Pubic Lice: Pubic lice - also known as crabs - live on the pubic hair near the genitals. These insects are commonly passed through sexual contact.
Even though they live in different parts of the body, lice cause similar symptoms.
- Bite marks
- Sores and rashes around the affected area
- Small white dots in your hair
Lice are very contagious. Sharing belongings, close physical contact, and bedding/ cloth are common ways lice spread. Once the female - known as a louse - inhabits an area, it will begin to lay eggs that stick to hair shafts via a sticky substance. These eggs hatch within a few days.
School children are most commonly affected by head lice. Hygiene has very little effect on whether or not a person will get head lice. Body lice, however, usually can be attributed to personal hygiene. Because the lice live in clothes and bedding, they can usually be prevented with regular laundering.
If you think you or your child may be dealing with an infestation of lice, talk to a health care provider. These little insects can be treated relatively easily, but usually do require medical attention to be properly removed.
Below are common treatment options for lice. During your appointment, talk to your health care provider about the treatment plan that is best for you.
Head and pubic lice are usually treated through the same measures. These include:
- OTC Shampoos: Shampoos - available over-the-counter - containing pyrethrin (Rid) or permethrin (Nix) are commonly recommended as the first treatment for lice.
- Oral medication: In severe or persistent lice infestations, your doctor may prescribe the oral antibiotic ivermectin. This drug is taken is usually taken in one or two doses, several days apart.
Body lice infestations can usually be treated by bathing with soap and water. Your doctor may recommend that you apply permethrin to any affected area after bathing, as an added precaution. Clothes that are infested with lice should be washed at the highest possible temperature and dried at high heat for at least 30 minutes. Do this with bedding and blankets as well. It is also recommended that you vacuum and wash your carpeting and rugs.