Lice

A lice infestation presents with visible red bites and itching.

Overview

A lice infestation presents with visible red bites and itching. Sometimes the nits (eggs) are visible, and more rarely also the lice themselves. Lice nest in people’s hair or laundry and are usually transmitted through close physical contact. Bites should not be scratched, and anyone you have had contact with should also be examined for lice.

Symptoms

  • Bites: small red or bluish dots, reddened skin
  • Itching
  • Visible nits (greyish-white eggs), more rarely: visible lice (light grey or brownish)
    • The discovery of just one louse or nit confirms an infestation with this parasite

Body areas:

  • Head lice
    • Bites on the head, in particular behind the ears, on the temples, the neckline at the back of the head, and the neck
    • Nits in the scalp hair (close to the roots), but also in the hair of the eyelashes, eyebrows, beard and armpits
  • Body lice
    • Bites on the head and torso (shoulders, stomach, buttocks)
    • Nits in textiles (clothes, folds of bed linen, etc.)
  • Pubic lice
    • Bites in the genital area
    • Nits in the pubic hair close to the skin, armpit hair, beard and chest hair

Complications

  • Bacterial superinfection of the scratched skin (purulent)
  • Eczematoid skin rash (often with children)
  • Bites of “healthy” lice are more nuisance than danger
  • Infected body lice can spread typhus, trench fever and relapsing fever
    • Happens very rarely thanks to modern hygiene practices
    • Still possible in times of war and crises

Causes and treatment

Causes

  • Head lice
    • Spread by direct contact with hair (human to human)
    • Indirectly via clothes, pillows, hair brushes
    • Common in schools, kindergartens, nursery schools and residential communities
    • Head lice also nest in clean hair (i.e. nothing to do with bad hygiene)
  • Body lice
    • Lack of body hygiene, cramped living conditions
    • Spread by close physical contact, bed linen or clothing infested with lice
    • Body lice only move onto people to suck their blood
  • Pubic lice
    • Usually spread by sexual intercourse (pubic lice live in the pubic hair)
    • Very close physical contact, more seldom also contact with clothing or bed linen

Further treatment by your doctor / in hospital

Possible tests
  • Physical examination (search for nits/lice)
Possible therapies
  • Various preparations that can be sprayed on and rubbed in
  • Treatment of the skin infection, if any

What can I do myself?

  • Immediately inform the school, kindergarten or nursery school if there is a lice breakout in the family (to prevent the spread)
  • Check everyone you've had contact with for lice and nits
  • Hygiene measures
    • Washing the hair often doesn't help (nits aren't removed)
    • Preventive washing of clothes, soft toys, towels and bed linen (where possible) at 60°C
    • Pack items that can't be washed into airtight containers and store at room temperature for 3 days, or put into the freezer for 24 hours
    • Boil combs and brushes in soapy water for 10 minutes
  • Shave the scalp, pubic and armpit hair
    • Deprives the head lice and pubic lice of their habitat
    • Must be done completely, but usually isn't necessary
  • Don't scratch as the wounds can become infected by lice droppings
  • Use physically acting pediculocides (anti-lice products)
    • Disrupts the supply of oxygen to lice and nits
    • Second cycle of treatment after 7 to 9 days to kill newly hatched larvae
  • Use a nit comb to remove dead lice/nits
    • Wet the hair with vinegar water to make it easier to comb them out
    • Do twice a week

When to see a doctor?

  • Suspicion of lice infestation (bites, nits, lice, itching, etc.)
    • In particular if there are infected areas of skin

Further information

www.lausinfo.ch

School medical service of home canton

Synonyms

lice, head louse, head lice, louse, diseases caused by lice, pediculocides, lice infestation

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CSS offers no guarantee for the accuracy and completeness of the information. The information published is no substitute for professional advice from a doctor or pharmacist.

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