Lice are small insects without wings. They are found on the scalp, pubic hair, body, or clothing. Lice lay eggs called nits.

Detail of a louse

Who gets lice?

  • Head lice are most common in children.
  • Pubic lice are most common in young adults.
  • Body lice are most common in people who do not bathe or wash their clothes often.

Signs of lice are:

  • Head lice:
    • Severe head and scalp itching
    • Infection and redness from itching, which leads to more itching
    • Lice and nits in the hair, scalp, behind the eats, or at the nape of the neck
  • Pubic lice:
    • Severe itching of the genital/anus area 
    • Lice and nits in pubic hair and/or other parts of the body covered by hair
    • Pubic lice are rarely found on the scalp.
  • Body lice:
    • Severe itching of the skin
    • Lice and nits are mostly found in the seams of clothing.
    • Body lice are rarely found on the skin.

How are lice spread?

  • Head lice are spread through head-to-head contact and by sharing brushes or hats.
  • Pubic lice are spread through sexual or very close body contact.
  • Body lice are spread by contact with the infected person's clothes or linen.

Lice is treated by:

  • Head and pubic lice:
    • Use an over-the-counter treatment such as a special shampoo.
    • Always check with a pharmacist when buying anything over-the-counter.
  • Body lice:
    • Take a bath.
    • Launder clothes and bed linens in hot water and dry in the dryer.
    • Medicines are not needed since body lice live in clothing and not on skin.

How to clean your home after lice

  • Vacuum floors, rugs, pillows, furniture.
  • Machine wash clothing, linen, and cloth toys in hot water (125° F).
  • Items that cannot be machine washed may be:
    • Machine dried on the hottest setting for 20 minutes
    • Put in a sealed plastic bag for ten days
  • Soak combs and brushes in special chemicals or hot water (150° F).

Common myths about lice

Myth (False) Truth
Lice jump or fly from person to person. Lice do not jump or fly. They can move quickly from head to head only through direct contact.
Household pets are carriers. Lice can only live on humans.
Lice infestations result from unclean personal habits or an unclean house. Lice survive better on a clean head than a dirty one, but dirt and neglect can let lice go unseen.
Lice are a sign of disease or poor nutrition. Lice are the cause of rash, infection, and other poor outcomes, not the result of them.
Long hair encourages louse breeding. There is no link between length of hair and infestation.


Last reviewed: 
July 2017

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