Head Lice

Also called Pediculus humanus capitis, head lice are small, wingless insects that infest the hair and scalp of a person. Infestations are quite common, especially among children, but can be eliminated with proper treatment. Getting lice has nothing to do with cleanliness or hygiene. The most common sign of head lice is itching. To successfully treat an infestation, you must kill the lice on the head and remove all the nits (eggs) from the hair.

What Are Head Lice?

Fear and anger -- these are some common emotions that occur when a loved one is diagnosed with head lice. But these emotions are often greater than the health impact that head lice causes. Yes, they are annoying; but they do not transmit disease and, with proper treatment, can be eliminated.
 
Also called Pediculus humanus capitis, head lice are small, wingless insects found on the heads of people. A head louse (head lice is plural) has three pairs of legs located directly behind the head. The legs end in sharp claws that are designed for feeding and allow the louse to hold on tightly to hair or clothing. The head louse is the largest of the three types of lice (the pubic louse, or crab louse, is the smallest).
 
When a person is infested with lice (whether it is head lice, body lice, or pubic lice), the condition is known as pediculosis.
 

Who Gets Head Lice?

Having head lice is quite common. However, there are no reliable data on how many people become infested in the United States each year. While anyone can get head lice, it is more common in children. It is also more common in girls.
 
One common myth is that personal hygiene or cleanliness in the home or school affects the chances that a person will get head lice. This is not true.
 
Written by/reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
Other Articles in This eMedTV Presentation
eMedTV Links
Copyright © 2006-2014 Clinaero, Inc.

eMedTV serves only as an informational resource. This site does not dispense medical advice or advice of any kind. Site users seeking medical advice about their specific situation should consult with their own physician. Click Terms of Use for more information.

This site complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information:
verify here.