Human lice historically have been associated with social upheavals, substandard and crowded living conditions, poverty, wars and lack of personal hygiene. Ironically, during the current period of the highest living standards in history, the incidence of louse infestations, particularly head lice, appears to be increasing in the United States. Some authorities have attributed this increase to currently popular longer hair styles, communal living and uncleanliness. |
Head lice and body lice, which are different forms (subspecies) of Pediculus humanus, are similar in appearance. Their habits are distinctly different, however. About 2 or 3 mm. long when mature, lice are wingless insects whose legs have claws that are adapted for clinging, giving the insect a strong grip on hair shafts. Their abdomens are distinctly longer than wide. Their color, which varies from dirty-white to grayish-black, usually approaches the hair color of the host.
Lice are transferred from person to person by direct contact or by several people using the same combs, brushes, hats, or bedding. Head lice are not found on animals or household pets and are not transmitted from pets to humans. Head louse infestations are normally found on children, but can also be spread to adults.
The eggs of lice are called nits. The eggs of head lice are usually glued to hairs of the head near the scalp. The favorite areas for females to glue the eggs are near the ears and back of the head. Under normal conditions the eggs will hatch in seven to 10 days. The young lice which escape from the egg must feed within 24 hours or they will die. Newly hatched lice will periodically take blood meals and molt three times before becoming sexually mature adults. Normally a young louse will mature in 10 to 12 days to an adult. The reaction of individuals to louse bites can vary considerably. Persons previously unexposed to lice experience little irritation from their first bite. After a short time individuals may become sensitized to the bites, and may react with a general allergic reaction including reddening of the skin, itching, and overall inflammation. Prevention of Head Lice
Children should be encouraged not to share combs, hats, and other personal belongings. Daily washing and changing of clothes and keeping hair as short as possible will also help discourage lice; however, head lice should not be solely associated with uncleanness since they may be easily transferred from person to person. Periodic inspections will aid in early detection of any individual lice which are more easily controlled than advanced infestations where dozens of mature lice and possibly hundreds of nits are present.
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