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Lice are a type of insect that can infest a person's head, body, or pubic area. They feed on blood and have a life cycle of about one month. They can be transmitted in several ways, such as through direct contact with an infested person. The most common symptom of lice is itching, although some people will have no symptoms. Getting rid of them can involve taking medication, nit picking, and treating the house.

What Are Lice?

Lice are small, wingless parasitic insects that feed on a human's blood. They can be found on various parts of the body, depending on the type. They are most often spread through close contact with someone already infested or through sharing personal belongings.
When a person is infested (whether it is on the head, body, or pubic area), the condition is known as pediculosis.

Types of Lice

The three kinds of lice that affect humans include:
  • Pediculus humanus capitis (head lice)
  • Pediculus humanus corporis (body lice)
  • Phthirus pubis (pubic lice or crab lice; also called crabs).
Each type looks similar. They are very small (about 2 mm), flat, and wingless. They have three pairs of legs located directly behind the head. The legs end in sharp claws that are designed for feeding and allow for the louse to hold on tightly to hair or clothing. The head louse is the largest in size; the crab louse is the smallest.

Who Gets Infested?

Infestations are very common today. However, there are no reliable data on how many people get lice in the United States each year. While anyone can get infested, it is more common in certain groups of people, depending on the type of lice. For example, children are more likely to get head lice, while homeless people are more likely to get body lice. Pubic lice are more common in adolescents who are sexually active or in people with multiple sex partners.
One common myth is that personal hygiene or cleanliness in the home or school affects the chances that a person will get lice. This is not true for head lice or pubic lice. It is, however, true for body lice.
You can learn more about the specific causes for each type by clicking on any of the following links:
A Dose of Reassurance for Parents of Picky Eaters

Information on Lice

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