Lice are very small, wingless insects that feed on human blood. There are three types of lice that affect humans: head lice, body lice and pubic lice. Head lice are the more common type of lice and develop on the hair and skin of the head (scalp). Body lice typically live in clothing and bedding, but move to the skin to feed. Pubic lice (crabs) live on the skin and hair in the pubic area. Lice are very easily spread through close contact. Symptoms of lice include intense itching, a tickling feeling in the hair, and small, red bumps on scalp, neck, and shoulders.
A person can get lice by coming into contact with lice or their eggs (nits). They are usually spread by close contact with individuals who have lice. Risk factors for getting lice include attending school or work with a person with lice and living in crowded and unclean conditions. Having many sex partners increases the risk for pubic lice. A diagnosis of head lice can be made when a live young or adult louse is seen on the scalp or hair or if a nit is seen on the hair within a ¼ inch from the scalp. Body lice can be diagnosed if lice or their eggs are seen in the seams of clothing or on bedding. Pubic lice can be diagnosed when moving lice or nits are seen on hair or skin of the pubic area. A person affected with lice can usually be treated with over-the-counter treatments for lice. If over-the-counter lice treatment does not work, your doctor may recommend prescription medications. If you or your child has been diagnosed with lice, talk with your doctor to discuss the best treatment recommendation.