One louse, one billion lice

Lice. Just the word probably makes you want to scratch that scalp of yours and/or possibly other regions if you have been unfortunate enough to have had such experiences.

What are Lice?

Lice are parasites and they suck your blood. They also lay their eggs in your hair, close to the skin. They make you scratch yourself a lot and can carry a variety of nasty life-threatening diseases such as typhus, relapsing-, and trench fever. Luckily, these are tremendously rare here in the privileged west. Therefore, I suggest that you send a thought to those million people living in extreme poverty who have to fight parasites and diseases like these daily, before you have a “IGGIT-freakout” due to a few harmless lice. We are so privileged.


A 1919 poster of the Typhys louse shaking hands with death (image credit: The Wellcome Trust)

But, yes lice are quite disgusting…really, quite disgusting, but also sort of weirdly fascinating.

Why you Should Lice-Comb your Spawn

Yesterday my spawn had to be combed for lice, none were fortunately found, but lice warnings come with regular frequency from school. The best way to prevent a jumping-lice-zoo at home is to routinely comb your own and your spawn’s hair with a louse-comb once a week. If you discover the lice at an early stage, it might be very easy to get rid of them.

After use, either boil your hairbrush/comb or put them in the freezer. That will kill the lice. Also, not having free-flowing open hair in school will help.

There are many drugs available for treatment of head lice, but unfortunately due to misuse  more and more lice are becoming resistant (see my post on antibiotics and superbugs), and even multi-resistant against several of the treatments. In Sweden, it is often even suggested to try to comb away the lice first and if that does not work, do the chemical treatment. This is not because of the severe danger of the treatment, but more due to the fear that more resistant lice will develop.

The louse has a life cycle that you should not forget about. Even if you manage to kill all adults, you still need to deal with the hatched eggs a couple of weeks later. If you stop treatment/combing after say 13 days and the cycle is 14 days – tough luck! You will have a new happy louse family in your scalp. Also, many of the chemicals only kill the adults. You can read, so follow the instructions for your comb and your medical shampoo. They are not there because someone needed a job, but to actually convey some important information.

There seem to be quite a variation in success rates for removal of lice in dry and wet hair, but I think the greatest variation comes from if parents actually do comb their progeny or if they often “forget”. This is the root to the whole louse epidemic. Comb your kids dammit!

A_man,_boy,_girl,_woman_and_baby_picking_fleas_from_each_oth_Wellcome_V0019964 (1)


Urban Myths About Lice

There are many misconceptions regarding lice such as that they thrive on people with bad hygiene. This is not true. There have even been studies conducted that showed that the lice actually preferred freshly washed hair over dirty hair. However, it might not actually be a matter of preference, but that the lice simply could hold on better to the non-greasy clean hairs. Lice do not infest dirty hair more easily than clean hair!

Now, my whole body itches and I have even gotten psychosomatic lice between my toes. I’d better go read about something else now.

Science Safely!

Dr. Anna of The Imaginarium

...has psychosomatic lice.

…has psychosomatic lice.

Clin Microbiol Infect. 2012 Apr;18(4):332-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-0691.2012.03778.x. Epub 2012 Feb 23. Human louse-transmitted infectious diseases. Badiaga S, Brouqui P.

Eichenfield, Lawrence F., and Francisco Colon-Fontanez. “Treatment of head lice.” The Pediatric infectious disease journal 17.5 (1998): 419-420.

Ibarra, Joanna, Frances Fry, and Clarice Wickenden. “Treatment of head lice.” The Lancet 356.9246 (2000): 2007.

Posted in Biology, Medicine and tagged , , , .

Dr. Anna

Dr. Anna Zakrisson is a multifaceted biologist with degrees from world-renowned institutions such as Cambridge University, U.K. and the Max-Planck Institute in Germany. She has published a range of high-ranking scientific papers and crossed oceans on research vessels. She runs The Imaginarium science blog and YouTube channel and speaks English, German and Swedish fluently.

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