One of the most common infestations that many people suffer from is Pediculosis. In simple terms, it is called lice infestation on the hairy parts of your body, especially the head. Though it is a very annoying condition, with proper remedies and treatments, you can get rid of the head lice or the pediculosis.
What is Pediculosis?
Louse infestation or Pediculosis is one of the oldest known conditions, as fossils of nits or louse eggs have been found that date over 10,000 years. Diagnosing louse infestation remains a major and common medical practice in everyday life.
Pediculosis is a term that originates from the Latin term "Pediculus", which means louse. These lice are reddish brown in colour and 1-3 mm long bugs that crawl into the head, through the hairy parts or the body. There are three types of lice and these are –
- Head lice - Pediculus humanus capitis
- Pubic lice - Phthirus pubis
- Body lice - Pediculus humanus corpus.
The lice can spread through clothes or by general contamination with an infested body part. They crawl through the hair, lay egg nests, which are called the nits and these nits stick to your hair. The nits can also stick to the clothes and thus get spread. As the eggs hatch, the lice infest the head and there is an extremely uncomfortable itching that takes place.
Who Suffers from Pediculosis?
Pediculosis is a common condition that can infest any individual. However, children within the age group of 3 and 11 are most likely to be infested by head lice. There is a strong misconception that the head lice infestation is associated with personal hygiene, which is untrue. It can occur to anyone from any socio-economic background, regardless of how clean the surrounding is.
It has been seen that girls suffer from pediculosis more often than boys, probably because they tend to have longer hair than the boys. In fact, the head lice stay comfortably amidst the softer and smoother or straight hair than the coarse and curly hair.
How Does Pediculosis Spread?
The lice cannot jump or fly. It can spread only by close contact with an infested head. In fact, if you use an infested comb or wear the clothes of an affected person that carries the nits or the lice, Pediculosis can easily spread. This is because the lice have crab like claws that can easily clasp or grasp any object, especially something thin like hair, fibre of clothes and hair comb bristles etc.
The usual ways through which head lice can spread and Pediculosis can occur are –
- Coming into close contact with an infested person at school or home, during sports or play, at camps or at parties
- Using infested hair brushes, combs or towels
- Lying on a bed or sofa or a couch and using pillows or stuffed toys that are used by an person suffering from pediculosis.
In case of pubic lice, Pediculosis may spread during sexual activities. They can also spread to the eyebrows, armpit or chest hair. On the other hand, the body lice spreads by infrequently changing the infested clothes. Thereby, the lice get a prolonged exposure to the skin, sucking onto the blood.
Signs and Symptoms of Pediculosis
Identification of Pediculosis is quite easy. There will be some obvious signs or symptoms such as –
- A tickling sensation like something is crawling through the hair
- Itching in the hair
- Sores in the head
- Small red bumps on scalp, neck or shoulder
- Tender and swollen lymph nodes
- Infected scalp due to the sores on the scalp.
Diagnosis of Pediculosis
Pediculosis or lice infestation can easily be diagnosed clinically. Usually, it can be diagnosed by searching for the nits that stay firmly attached to the hair. If the nits are found to be close to the scalp, it can be said that the infestation is new. In case the nits are attached about 1/4th inch away from the scalp, then the chances are that the infestation is an old one. In case the clinical diagnosis is not enough to identify Pediculosis, it is a must that you see a medical professional or a nurse. Sometimes, the adult lice can't be seen easily with bare eyes as they tend to escape from the site by fast movements.
Often the nits of head lice are mistaken with dandruff. Hence, careful diagnosis is a must.
How is Pediculosis Treated?
Once Pediculosis is diagnosed, it can be treated well quite easily. There are a number of over-the-counter medicines that can be used to kill the lice. These are available in the form of shampoos, lotions or oils. These medicines contain certain chemicals that can effectively kill the lice and the nits.
However, it cannot be confidently said that the medicine has penetrated well and killed the nits. Hence, using a fine lice comb to remove the nits is a must.
As long as the medicine is used as per the direction of the manufacturer, there is nothing that needs to be worried about. Usually, it is prescribed or recommended that the application of the lice medicine is repeated after about 7 to 10 days of the first application. This ensures that the lifecycle of lice is broken.
How to Prevent Pediculosis?
Periodical checking of the head or hairy parts of the body is the most effective way of preventing pediculosis or at least eradicating it at an early stage. To check the presence of nits or adult lice, a fine-toothed hair comb can be used. Other effective preventive measures for Pediculosis are –
- Avoiding any contact with an infested person
- Avoid sharing bed linens, towels or even dresses with siblings or other family members, who has pediculosis
- Changing bed linens, pillow covers and washing combs frequently.
Once treatment has been given to an infested person, it is a must that the clothes, towels and all other washable belongings of the infested person are washed, if possible, boiled in hot water. The belongings that cannot be washed should be dry cleaned or at least kept in an airtight container for a few days, so that if there are any traces of nits or adult lice, they cannot survive.