What Do Lice Look Like?

What Do Lice Look Like?
What Do Lice Look Like? (Image: http://www.cdc.gov/lice/body/index.html)

Lice do not discriminate based on hair length, color, or age. They will happily jump from one human host to the next. There are millions of cases of lice infestations each year. When we think of lice, we usually think of head lice. The fact is that humans can host three different kinds of lice: head lice, body lice, and pubic lice. Pets and animals do not play a part in the transmission of lice. Lice are parasitic insects that live off of human blood.


Head lice (Pediculus humanus capitis) are wingless insects that are barely visible. They are grey-white in color and about 2-3 mm in length. They can be mistaken for dandruff. Each female louse lives for a month and will produce 7-10 eggs (nits). It is difficult to remove head lice because they are attached with a waterproof sticky substance. These nits can be found on the head, eyelashes, and eyebrows. They are commonly found in preschool and elementary children. Pubic lice, known as Phthirus pubis, are small six-legged creatures that look like crabs. These lice are white to brownish in color and have an oval shape. If they have been feeding, they turn dark red.. While they are usually found in pubic hair, they can also be found in armpit hair, facial hair, and eyelashes. Body lice (Pediculus humanus corporis) resemble head lice but are much larger than the other types. They can live anywhere on the body. A female louse can lay about 300 eggs or more in her lifetime. While head lice lives on the scalp, body lice feed and then nestle in clothing seams.


The moment that lice decide to make you their new home, you will know. Head lice will feel like a tickling sensation along your scalp.You might also feel that something is moving around in your hair. As the head louse bites the scalp, there is itching. This is an allergic reaction to the saliva. Head lice are very active at night and it will be difficult to sleep. Sores can develop if you are constantly scratching your head. Bacteria can spread from your fingers to your scalp causing an infection. In some cases, people can have pubic lice without any symptoms. Most people complain of intense itching that becomes worse at night. The bites of pubic lice can result in blue-gray marks on the inner thighs and pubic area. Symptoms of body lice are constant and intense itching. You may develop a rash that looks like small welts. Itching is most intense around the waist, groin, and thighs. If you have had body lice for a long time, the infection can darken and thicken your skin.


Lice need warmth and humidity to incubate. The stages of the head lice are the nit, nymph, and adult louse. Nits are about as big as a pinhead and hatch in 7-10 days. Once they hatch they become transparent. A nit uses air that it swallows and expels through its rectum to create an air bubble. This air bubble forces the nit out of its case. A nit that has hatched is called a nymph. It is similar in appearance to an adult louse, but much smaller. A nymph needs to feed off of human blood within 40 minutes if it is to survive. Within 7-12 days, the nymph will molt about 3 times before it becomes an adult. Lice live up to 30 days.


There are a variety of pediculicidal shampoos, aerosols, and rinses that can treat head lice. It may take 2 applications before all nits are destroyed. After you apply the treatment, use a fine-toothed comb or a louse comb. Look for head lice when the hair is wet. Do small sections of hair and comb towards the scalp. Repeat combing method every 2 to 3 days for 2 weeks. Head lice can live up to 48 hours without a host so it is necessary to disinfect all personal items that came in contact with the infested scalp. Wash and dry on the hottest cycle to prevent reinfestation. Soak all brushes and combs for 15 minutes in hot water. Any item that can not be washed should be put in an air-tight plastic bag for two weeks. All members of the household that are infested should be treated at the same time. Pubic lice are not killed with just soap and water. It is necessary to use a product that contains Pyrethrin (1%) or Pymethrin (1%) to get rid of pubic lice. Bed linens and clothing should be washed and dried on the hottest cycle. Search eyelashes and eyebrows for lice or nits. Apply petroleum jelly to the area 2 times daily for at least a week. It usually isn't necessary to seek treatment for body lice because they live mainly on clothing. An infested person should take a shower and get a fresh change of clothes. It is advised that worn clothing, bedding, or towels should be washed thoroughly or thrown away. Lice and nits will be killed when washed in hot water of at least 140 degrees F. Once washed, dry on highest heat cycle for half an hour. Take an over-the-counter antihistamine to relieve itching.


Head lice are transmitted through direct contact. Ways of transmission include sharing pillows, combs, brushes, and caps. Pubic lice are transmitted during sexual contact with an infested person. Your risk of getting pubic lice increases if you have multiple sex partners or if you share clothing or bedding with someone that is infested. Children can get pubic lice after having nonsexual contact with their parent. Body lice can infest clothing, towels, and bedding and can be without a human host for up to a month. Body lice can infest rapidly if the person lives in crowded environment or where there is poor personal hygiene. Body lice can infest anyone but are common in the homeless who are unable to have proper hygiene.

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