A Close Look at Lice Bites
Is It Lice?
You feel a tiny tickle, an itchy bump. Could it be lice? The very thought can make you itch! Head lice, pubic lice (“crabs”), and body lice are parasites no one wants to be invaded by. But don’t feel bad. These creepy crawlers are as old as humankind, and they are not nitpicky about who they pick on.
Read on to find out how to identify lice bites, and how to get rid of them as quickly as possible.
What Are Lice?
There are three kinds of lice that feed on human blood, each identified by the area of the body they infest: head lice, pubic lice, and body lice. Head and pubic lice use skin and hair as their nesting grounds, while body lice live in fabrics. Lice don’t jump or fly—they crawl. Additionally, human lice do not live on other animals.
From Nit to Adult
Lice have three life stages: nit (egg), nymph (baby lice) and adult. Nits take about a week to hatch, and nymphs grow for about a week before they are ready to lay nits. Adults can live as long as 30 days if they have access to human blood. Adult head and pubic lice die after 48 to 72 hours with no blood, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points out that body lice can live for a week.
What to Look For
Adult lice are about the size of a tiny sesame seed. Head and body lice have a segmented body and six legs. Pubic lice have six legs, too, but are shaped like tiny sea crabs. Lice are tan or brown-gray in color.
Nits are tiny, light-colored deposits attached to hair for head and pubic lice, and to fabric for body lice. Nits are firmly attached and won’t move when nudged with a finger or comb.
Is It Head Lice?
Head lice thrive anywhere from your eyebrows to the nape of your neck. You get them from close contact with someone who already has them. You can also get them from exposure to an object that was recently in contact with an infested person’s head, such as a hairbrush or a pillow. In the United States, head lice spread most rapidly in school-age children. Most schools have a policy requiring students with head lice to stay home until the problem is eliminated.
What’s That Bite on My Head?
If you find a cluster of itchy spots on your head, it could be head lice. They may bite anywhere on the head, but they are particularly fond of the back of the head and the area behind the ears. The bites will appear as small reddish or pink bumps. You may see a tiny dot in the center of each bump. When scratched, the bites can become infected and scab over.
Is It Pubic Lice?
Pubic lice, or crabs, infest the wiry hair around your genitals, and sometimes the underarm area, chest hair, and eyebrows as well. They are spread through sexual contact, so they’re most common in sexually active teenagers and adults. There is a chance that they can appear in children, however. According to the Mayo Clinic, the presence of pubic lice in the eyebrows of children could indicate sexual abuse, or from sharing a bed with an infested parent.
What’s That Bite . . . Down There?
Itchy spots in the hair-covered area around the genitals could indicate pubic lice. Look for small reddish or pink bumps. You may see a tiny dot in the center of each bump. When scratched, the bites can become infected. In long-term pubic lice infestations, the skin around the bite may turn blue or purple.
Make Head and Pubic Lice Go Away!
It goes without saying that head and pubic lice are highly unpleasant. Even though they don’t carry disease, you’ll want to get rid of them. There are over-the-counter and prescription treatments containing chemicals that kill head and pubic lice, but you won’t be lice-free until every last nit is combed out. It’s a time-consuming, unpleasant process but you’ll be glad you did it. You’ll also need to thoroughly wash all clothes and bedding that may have lice on them.
Is It Body Lice?
Body lice feed just about anywhere other than the head or genitals, but they live and lay their eggs in clothes and bedding. Body lice are most often found in the homes of people who use the same clothes or bedding for a long time without laundering them. They are spread by contact with the fabrics they infest.
What Are These Bites All Over Me?
Body lice tend to be rare outside of particularly unsanitary living conditions. However, if you think you’ve been exposed, look for clusters of tiny dots that start out red and expand with an outer pink ring. Prolonged body lice infestations can turn the surrounding skin blue or purple. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, body lice can spread dangerous illnesses, including typhus, trench fever, and epidemic relapsing fever. Good personal hygiene and the washing of clothes will help eliminate body lice.
Don’t Feel “Lousy”
The idea of something crawling on your body and feeding on your blood is appalling. But unless you’ve been exposed to body lice, which carry diseases, lice are mostly just an inconvenience. Once you’ve identified what kind of lice bite you have, you can eliminate the problem with careful treatment. Call your healthcare provider if you suspect you or your children have a form of lice.
- CDC - Lice - Body lice - Frequently asked questions (FAQs). (2010, November 2). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved September 5, 2013, from http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/lice/body/gen_info/faqs.html
- Pubic lice (crabs). (2012, December 14). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved September 5, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/pubic-lice-crabs/DS01072
- Willingham, E. (2011, February 14). Of lice and men: An itchy history | Guest Blog, Scientific American Blog Network. Scientific American Blog Network. Retrieved September 5, 2013, from http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2011/02/14/of-lice-and-men-an-itchy-history/