Lice and Crabs: An Overview
- Public Louse (CDC, Public Domain, Wiki Commons)
The hallmark symptom of lice or crabs is itching in the infested area of the body. Lice and crabs, which are 2 to 4 mm in size, also can be visualized in the hair, clothing and on other body parts. Lice cling tightly to the hair shaft and resemble tiny buds or pips, only they cannot be combed or brushed out. If lice are in the hair, tiny red bumps may present on the scalp, neck and shoulder areas. An infestation of pubic lice, or crabs, is the most common sexually transmitted disease. Anyone exposed to a sexual partner with crabs has a 90 percent likelihood of getting crabs, too. Rarely are crabs passed by sharing bedding and clothing. Crabs also can be passed from adults to children, whose eyelashes become infested.
Treating Head Lice and Crabs
- Lice and crabs that are in the pubic hair or head hair can be easily killed using lotions or shampoos found in your drugstore. These go by the brand names of Nix and Rid. But if these don't do the job, a doctor may prescribe more heavy-duty treatments such as malathion or lindane. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are not optimal candidates for these topical treatments, however. Lindane, a particularly strong treatment, may not be appropriate for people who weigh less than 110 pounds. This medication also can have severe side effects, such as skin irritation and seizures, and sometimes (but rarely) death may occur.
Treating Body Lice
- Topical treatments aren't required if lice are only on the body and not in the hair. However, you must treat your environment--including clothing and household items--as described below.
- Removing every last nit (louse egg) from your hair is of tantamount importance. The Mayo Clinic suggests these follow-through measures to ensure that you get rid of hair lice. After using a shampoo treatment, rinse hair with vinegar, or grasp individual parts of the hair with a vinegar-soaked cloth and pull down to the end of the hair. Alternately, the hair can be soaked in vinegar for a few minutes before combing out the nits using a fine-toothed styling comb. Doing this three to four times a week for two weeks ensures that lice and their nits are removed from the hair. Make sure to wash all combs and brushes thoroughly using hot, soapy water that's at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
Treating the Environment
- Lice and crabs don't just limit themselves to the human body; as they search for their next victim, they can remain in clothing and on furniture and other soft surfaces. Just like hair tools, bedding, clothing and hats should be washed in hot, soapy water that's at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit and dried in the dryer on high heat. Items that can't be washed should be sealed in plastic bags for at least two weeks. Vacuum all furniture, carpeting and rugs thoroughly--and remember to dispose of the vacuum bag outside of your home.