Head Lice An Emerging Health Threat
Work published by the Public Library of Science points out that head lice may pose a greater health risk than previously thought. Many of us have had a call from a school official saying that the school would be checking the kids for lice. It's disconcerting to think that your little darling may have crawlies in their hair, but if they are found in a usual, middle class household they are easy to get rid of. You just need a fine toothed comb and some special shampoo and they are gone.
Head lice(Pediculus humanus capitis) are easy to catch. Close contact with an infested person is needed. Hats or scarves in a cloakroom may drop the wee blood suckers onto the unwary. Catching head lice does not mean the person is dirty or lacking in hygiene.
Body lice(Pediculus humanus humanus) are another matter altogether. They are vectors of devastating diseases. In WWI many deaths were causes by trench fever, spread by these biting insects.
The study, a joint effort by Universite de la Mediterranee, Florida Museum of Natural History and University of Florida, University of Illinois has shown that what was previously thought to be two species is one. This is significant because body lice spread disease and can live in clothing. They are larger than head lice and drink more blood.
Body lice are found around the world in situations where people are crowded and live in situations that prevent good hygiene.
People Most At Risk for Body Lice
- victims of war
- victims of natural disasters
Diseases Spread by Body Lice
Why Should We Care?
Head lice are found worldwide and may infest and spread to healthy well kept children in a school or adults in an institute. While normal hygiene and housing is maintained they are easy to control and get rid of. Earthquakes can change that picture dramatically as we have recently seen in Haiti and Chile where suddently there are large numbers of homeless people surviving in poor conditions. In those situations head lice can proliferate and turn into much more dangerous body lice and spread devastating diseases.
Extreme weather events may throw people into crowded, homeless situations and allow body lice to proliferate.
As our world climate changes, it is predicted that more extreme weather events will occur. Rising ocean levels will displace people. Conflicts displace people. Homeless numbers are increasing in our cities. These may well serve to cause a resurgence of louse borne diseases in our modern N. American communities.