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Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jan 5, 2023.

What is pediculosis?

Pediculosis is a lice infestation of the hairy areas on the body. Lice are tiny bugs that bite into the skin and suck blood to live and grow. The most common areas of infestation are the scalp or genitals. Eyebrows, eyelashes, chest hair, or underarm hair may also be infested.

What do lice look like?

There are 3 stages in the life of lice: nit (egg), nymph, and adult. Adult lice lay nits and stick them to hair strands or clothing fibers. Nits look like tiny pieces of dandruff that cannot be brushed off. Nymphs hatch from nits in 7 to 10 days. They are clear in color and feed on scalp blood. Nymphs quickly grow into adults. Adult lice can be tan or gray or a darker color when filled with blood.

How are lice spread?

Lice are spread from person to person by sharing items, such as hats, brushes, or headphones. Scalp lice can spread quickly. It is a common problem in schools and daycare centers. A person with genital lice can infest another person during sex.

What are the signs and symptoms of lice?

  • Red bite marks and itching
  • Ticklish feeling of something crawling in your hair
  • Skin sores or infections from scratching
  • Swollen glands around your neck, head, or groin area

How are lice treated?

Medical shampoos, creams, or lotions will kill the lice. They may be prescription or over-the-counter. Ask your healthcare provider for help choosing the right lice medicine. Do not use lice medicine on children younger than 2 years old. Instead, use regular shampoo and pick the nits or lice off the scalp and hair. Never use gasoline, kerosene, or other oil products to treat lice.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Comb your hair to remove all nits. Lice medicine may not kill or remove all the nits. Use your fingernails or a fine-toothed comb to remove dead or dying lice and nits that are stuck to your hair. Nit combs come in some lice treatment packages. To make it easier to comb out nits, soak your hair with a solution of ½ white vinegar and ½ water. Cover your hair with a bathing cap or towel for 30 minutes. Then remove the cap or towel and comb from the scalp outward. You may also use a gel that loosens nits. This may be bought over-the-counter.
  • Clean clothes and bedding. Clean all items that you have used since 2 days before you learned you had lice. Wash items like sheets, clothes, and towels using the hot water cycle. Dry on the hot cycle for at least 20 minutes. Dry clean items that cannot be washed in a washing machine. You can also hang these items outside for 2 days. Or, you can put them in a closed plastic bag for 2 weeks if you have head lice. Keep items in a closed plastic bag for 4 weeks if you have body lice or pubic lice.
  • Disinfect all hair items. Soak combs, brushes, and all hair items in rubbing alcohol, an antiseptic, or anti-lice shampoo for at least 1 hour. You may also put them in boiling water for at least 10 minutes.
  • Vacuum carpets, rugs, car seats, and furniture.
  • Tell anyone who has been close to you to be checked for lice. This includes friends, classmates, family, or sex partners.
  • Do not share personal items , such as combs and brushes, clothes, and hats.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • The lice bites become crusty or fill with pus.
  • You have matted, foul-smelling scalp and hair.
  • You see live lice or new nits more than 2 days after you use lice medicine.
  • You have trouble sleeping due to itching
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

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