Three kinds of lice affect humans; infestation with lice is known as pediculosis. The louse itself is a small wingless flattened insect.

Pediculosis capitis, head louse infestation, affects the scalp, although sometimes it involves the eyebrows, eyelashes, and beard; it is particularly common in children. The lice feed on blood from the scalp, having infested it by direct contact with hair and with items such as combs, towels, and headgear. The bites cause severe persistent itching and the lesions may become infected. The glands of the neck may sometimes enlarge.

Adult lice may be noticed around the back of the head and behind the ears. The small ovoid eggs, or nits, are easier to detect, being firmly attached to hair shafts. These hatch in three to fourteen days unless removed with a nit comb. In addition to combing, the scalp should be treated with benzyl benzoate or gamma benzene hexachloride (GBH). Members of the same household also should be examined for infestation.

Pediculosis corporis, body louse infestation, occurs when lice inhabit the seams of clothing worn next to the skin and feed on the skin. Under good hygienic conditions it is uncommon. The bites of the lice appear as small red marks, and itching may lead to severe scratch marks with secondary bacterial infection. Lesions are especially common on the shoulders, buttocks, and abdomen. Both the parasites and nits show up readily in clothing.

Laundering and hot ironing of seams will kill the lice. The skin should be rubbed with GBH. Lotions may soothe inflammation. Nits remain viable in clothing for as long as one month, hatching when they are reexposed to body heat. Dissemination of lice occurs through contact with infected persons, clothing, or bedding.

Pediculosis pubis is crab louse infestation of the area of the genitals and anus and sometimes other hair regions. Infestation may be venereal or acquired from clothing, bedclothes or toilet seats. Severe irritation, with scratch marks, occurs. Application of benzyl benzoate or GBH is an effective treatment. Prolonged use of such chemicals should be avoided, however.

Lice are known to transmits typhus fever, relapsing fever, and trench fever, but these infections are rare.
It should be noted that the myths surrounding the proliferation of lice (especially head lice, pediculosis capitis) are profoundly more well known than the facts. Let's examine a few of the most common, shall we?

- Head lice are the result of bad hygiene.

Bunk. Head lice are spread only by direct contact, and as the insects are rather limited in their mobility, this usually requires some kind of head-to-head contact, or the use of a very swift intermediary. Head lice also survive thorough washing quite well, so no amount of it is going to keep them away. They feed on your blood, not on filth--it's no more a sign of ill hygiene to contract head lice than to be bitten by a mosquito (though a little harder to rectify, granted). If your child has head lice, it's probably because he or she has good friends, and not because you've been a neglectful parent.

- Head lice are often spread through shared hats or clothing.

Head lice found on hats, clothing, and furniture are dead or dying, as a rule. They can't survive off a host for very long at all, and don't spread themselves proactively.

- Head lice prefer long hair.

Another piece of bunk rooted socially. Long hair may seem a sign of ill-keeping to you (or your dad), but it's not going to make a single difference in the contraction of lice infestations. If anything, it might keep them off--hair is one thing lice have to work against when gaining access to your scalp. Children with long hair should absolutely not be shaved as part of a lice treatment; it is unnecessary. Girls actually do have a higher rate of infestation, but this is only because they tend to play more closely than boys.

Most importantly, an infestation with head lice is absolutely asymptomatic in most, save for a light itching. It's not something you have to worry about, and it's not a cause for medical concern. Head lice are not typically carriers of disease.

Louse (?), n.; pl. Lice (#). [OE. lous, AS. ls, pl. ls; akin to D. luis, G. laus, OHG. ls, Icel. ls, Sw. lus, Dan. luus; perh. so named because it is destructive, and akin to E. lose, loose.] Zool.


Any one of numerous species of small, wingless, suctorial, parasitic insects belonging to a tribe (Pediculina), now usually regarded as degraded Hemiptera. To this group belong of the lice of man and other mammals; as, the head louse of man (Pediculus capitis), the body louse (P. vestimenti), and the crab louse (Phthirius pubis), and many others. See Crab louse, Dog louse, Cattle louse, etc., under Crab, Dog, etc.


Any one of numerous small mandibulate insects, mostly parasitic on birds, and feeding on the feathers. They are known as Mallophaga, or bird lice, though some occur on the hair of mammals. They are usually regarded as degraded Pseudoneuroptera. See Mallophaga.


Any one of the numerous species of aphids, or plant lice. See Aphid.


Any small crustacean parasitic on fishes. See Branchiura, and Ichthvophthira.

⇒ The term is also applied to various other parasites; as, the whale louse, beelouse, horse louse.

Louse fly Zool., a parasitic dipterous insect of the group Pupipara. Some of them are wingless, as the bee louse. -- Louse mite Zool., any one of numerous species of mites which infest mammals and birds, clinging to the hair and feathers like lice. They belong to Myobia, Dermaleichus, Mycoptes, and several other genera.


© Webster 1913.

Louse (?), v. t.

To clean from lice.

"You sat and loused him."



© Webster 1913.

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