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Patient Story

A 12-year-old girl presented to a homeless clinic with her mother for itching on her head. The physical examination revealed multiple nits in her long straight hair (Figure 127-1). A live adult louse was also found crawling on the hairs around her neck (Figure 127-2). The clinician also examined her mother and found a few nits on the hair behind her ears. There were no other members of the family living at the shelter so both were treated with permethrin now and in one week to kill any remaining live nits before they hatch. The clinician alerted the shelter staff of this infestation and other families were found to be infested. The girl was given permission to return to school if she completed her treatment with the permethrin cream rinse. The clinician recommended that clothes, bed clothes, combs and brushes be washed in hot water.

FIGURE 127-1

Pearly nits of the head louse seen in the hair of a 12-year-old girl living in a homeless shelter. (Used with permission from Richard P. Usatine, MD.)

FIGURE 127-2

Adult louse hanging on to the hairs at the nape of the neck. (Used with permission from Richard P. Usatine, MD.)


Lice are ectoparasites that live on or near the body.1 They will die of starvation within 10 days of removal from their human host. Lice have coexisted with humans for at least 10,000 years.2 Lice are ubiquitous and remain a major problem throughout the world.3


Pediculosis, crabs (pubic lice).


  • Human lice (pediculosis corporis, pediculosis pubis, and pediculosis capitis) are found in all countries and climates.3

  • Head lice are most common among school-age children. Each year, approximately 6 to 12 million children, ages 3 to 12 years, are infested.4

  • Head lice infestation is seen across all socioeconomic groups and is not a sign of poor hygiene.5

  • In the US, black children are affected less often as a result of their oval-shaped hair shafts that are difficult for lice to grasp.4

  • Body lice infest the seams of clothing (Figure 127-3) and bed linen. Infestations are associated with poor hygiene and conditions of crowding.

  • Pubic lice are most common in sexually active adolescents and adults. Young children with pubic lice typically have infestations of the eyelashes. Although infestations in this age group may be an indication of sexual abuse, children generally acquire the crab lice from their parents.6

FIGURE 127-3

Adult body lice and nymphs visible along the pant seams of a patient with body lice. (Used with permission from Richard P. ...

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