Pediculosis is an infestation caused by Pediculus humanus capitis, the head louse. The life of the louse is dependant on the host to such an extent that without a host they can survive only for 15 to 20 hours. The life cycle of the head louse begins when an egg is laid near the scalp which gets firmly attached to the hair shaft. The egg hatches into a nymph within a period of seven to ten days.
The nymph matures into a female or a male within nine to twelve days of hatching. Both male and female lice have a life span of around 30 days. Both the nymphs as well as the adults feed on the blood. The primary symptom of Pediculosis is itching. Itching incidentally is a symptom of Scabies as well. However, the similarity ends there.
The itching in the case of Scabies is believed to be caused due to the movement of the mites within the skin unlike Pediculosis where it is the body’s reaction to louse saliva that causes itching. Another difference between Pediculosis and Scabies is while Scabies is caused by the microscopic mite, Sarcoptes scabei Pediculosis is caused by the head louse.
Infestation is confirmed if
- Lice are found
- nits (eggs) are found
Staying in close proximity with an infected person seems to aid transmission of the infestation and that is the reason why it is easy to catch the infestation at schools or other institutions. In this aspect, it is different from scabies since scabies spreads through skin-to-skin contact or through sexual contact with an infected person and Scabies may also spread through the use of personal linen, clothes etc. used by an infected person. In the case of Pediculosis, staying in close proximity is enough to spread the infestation, or in other words, no skin-to skin contact is necessary.
Combing the hair and thereafter examining the teeth of the comb for lice or nits appears to be an effective way of detecting lice infestation over plain visual examination. Lice infestation in the case of persons who are homeless or those who do not change their bed or clothes regularly is confirmed by the presence of pruritis and excoriations.
In the case of Scabies, diagnosis of Scabies infestation is made by examination of burrows in the skin or rashes. Confirmation of Scabies infestation may be done by biopsy of skin scrapings.
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