Lice refer to parasitic insects that can live on the human body. Different types of human lice may be present on people’s heads and bodies and survive by feeding on human blood. Typically, human lice spread from close person-to-person contact.
Health experts can classify human lice into
- head lice or
Pediculus humanus capitis
- body lice or
Pediculus humanus corporis
- pubic lice or
Each type of human louse is a parasitic insect that cannot hop or fly. As such, human lice commonly spread through close person-to-person contact. It is also possible for people to get lice through contact with clothing, bedding, and grooming tools. Dogs, cats, and other pets do not play a role in spreading lice.
To help prevent the spread of lice, it is advisable to regularly wash and dry clothing and bedding at a high temperature, avoid close physical contact if a person has lice, and avoid sharing personal items.
This article discusses how head lice spread and strategies to prevent them.
Each type of human louse spreads slightly differently. However, lice spreading involves close physical contact between humans.
Head lice commonly spread from direct
Similarly, body lice usually spread from
Also known as crabs, pubic lice are a type of sexually transmitted infection (STI). This means that they spread directly from person to person through
Evidence notes that in the United States, head lice are
- preschool children attending child care
- elementary school children
- households with children
In the U.S., infestation with body lice
Since pubic lice mainly spread through sexual contact, they are most common in sexually active adults. However, it is important to note that pubic lice present on children
The primary symptom of head, body, and pubic lice is itching that occurs due to the presence of the lice. The itching typically occurs due to a person experiencing an allergic reaction to bites from lice. This intense itching can result in sores from scratching that may be at risk of infection with bacteria or fungi.
With head lice, a person may also
To treat human lice, it is generally advisable to use a pediculicide. This refers to medication that kills lice. It is available in different formulations, and some also have an ovicidal effect, which means they also kill lice eggs.
For head lice, in addition to using a pediculicide, a person can also use a
Similarly, for pubic lice, a person can
With body lice, it may not be necessary to use a pediculicide. Instead, a person can
- improving personal hygiene
- assuring a regular change of clean clothes
- washing and drying clothes, bedding, and towels at a high temperature
- experiencing head-to-head contact
- sharing clothing, such as hats, scarves, and hair ribbons, and sharing combs, brushes, or towels
- lying on beds, pillows, or couches that experience contact with a person with head lice
- using fumigation sprays or fogs, as they can be toxic if a person inhales them or absorbs them through skin
Other prevention tips for head lice include:
- disinfecting items such as combs by soaking them in hot water
- washing and drying clothing and other items a person with head lice has used for head-to-head contact
- dry-cleaning or storing nonwashable items in a plastic bag for 2 weeks
- vacuuming the floor and furniture
For body lice, the
- bathing and changing into properly laundered clothes at least once a week
- machine-washing and drying clothing and bedding using a hot water laundry cycle and high heat drying cycle
- dry-cleaning or sealing away nonwashable items in a plastic bag and storing them for 2 weeks
- avoiding sharing clothing, beds, bedding, and towels with a person with body lice
- fumigating and using chemical insecticides to manage and prevent lice and diseases, such as
People can use the
- receiving treatment if they have pubic lice
- notifying all sexual contacts if they have pubic lice
- abstaining from sexual contact until they are clear of lice
- machine-washing and drying both clothing and bedding in hot water at a temperature of at least 130°F (54°C)
- dry-cleaning or sealing items that are not washable in a plastic bag and storing them for 2 weeks
- avoiding sharing clothing, bedding, or towels with an individual with pubic lice
- refraining from using fumigant sprays or fogs, as they can be toxic to humans
- testing for other STIs that may be present
Human lice are parasitic insects that feed on human blood. Different types may be present on several human body parts. Generally, lice spread from close physical contact between humans and cause symptoms such as itching.
Medications are available to treat lice infestations. Additionally, people can try to prevent them by limiting physical contact if a person has lice, avoiding sharing personal items, and regularly washing and drying clothing, bedding, and towels at a high temperature.