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Lice Information

Microscope view of a single louse  

Head Lice

  • Head lice are found worldwide. In the United States, infestation with head lice is most common among pre-school children attending child care, elementary schoolchildren, and the household members of infested children.
  • Head lice move by crawling; they cannot hop or fly. Head lice are spread by direct contact with the hair of an infested person. Personal hygiene or cleanliness in the home or school has nothing to do with getting head lice.
  • Human head lice infestations are not a mandated reportable condition to a public health authority. Lice are transferred between humans but do not transfer infectious diseases and thus are not under public health surveillance or response.
  • Policies for children in school are made by specific school districts, and in the past decade, many schools have adopted a "no live lice" versus a "no nit" attendance policy.
  • Detailed recommendations for treatment of head lice can be found on the CDC webpage found below.

Body Lice

  • Body lice are also found worldwide. Body lice are similar in appearance to head lice but live in clothing, instead of in hair, and often lay eggs in clothing seams. They may be transmitted from another person by contact with the body or clothing.
  • Infestation with body lice can occur if clothes are not washed or changed regularly, and usually affects populations where this is difficult and where there is crowding. This includes persons living in conditions of poor hygiene such as refugees and homeless populations.
  • Dog, cats, and other pets do not play a role in the transmission of human lice.
  • Body lice infestations can be identified by itchy bites, by seeing lice in clothes, and by finding tiny louse eggs (nits), which are typically laid on clothing seams.
  • Body lice can transmit various diseases such as typhus and relapsing fever, and can carry Bartonella bacteria which can lead to a self-limiting febrile illness (trench fever) or rare cardiac complications such as endocarditis. This infection should be considered in patients with unexplained cardiac failure or febrile illness and a history of louse infestation.
  • Body lice can usually be removed without medication, by bathing or taking a shower and bagging all clothing, towels or bedding, including outer coats and sleeping bags.
  • Body lice can be killed by hot washing and hot drying all laundry (≥130⁰F). An insecticide (pediculicide) as used for head lice is generally not needed for body lice if hygiene measures are taken, but may be considered if other measures are unsuccessful.