Pediculosis, or infestation by Pediculus arthropods commonly
known as lice, has been a public health problem for all of human history.
While its effects are for the most part mild because the infestation occurs
only on the surface( on the skin, scalp and clothes), managing the disease
has presented a challenge for public health measures because lice are
so common and widespread. Lice exist in virtually every country of the
world, particularly within poor rural areas and communities where personal
hygiene and sanitation are bad, and are spread easily from person to person.
However, pediculosis is also easily preventable, through simple measures
such as bathing and over-the counter chemical treatments. Therefore pediculosis
presents a particularly unique yet manageable public health challenge.
History of Discovery
Lice have been a human annoyance throughout all human prehistory and
history, since biblical times. A passage in the Bible describes how Aaron
"stretched out his hand with his rod and smote the dust of the earth
and it became lice in men and beast" (Exodus 8:17). Lice were present
in ancient civilizations across the globe, although they were not considered
bad in all civilizations. For example, the Aztecs used to bring bags of
lice in place of gold to pay their respects to Montezuma. Lice were also
present across time, running rampant in Europe of the Middle Ages and
Renaissance, especially among the poor people who didn't bathe and lived
In the 16th and 17th centuries, lice began to be documented as distinct
species for the first time, by Francesco Redi who described P. pubis
in 1668, and by Carl de Geer who described P. capitis. Pediculosis,
or the infestation of lice, was first described by Joseph Jakob Plenck
in the 18th century, as he identified five types of lice based on where
they were found on the body. In 1842, Erasmus Wilson published a textbook
in which pediculosis and lice were identified and defined in current terms.
Since then, starting with Hans Zinsser in 1935, most modern studies have
focued on outbreaks of lice(often due to the breakdown of public health
measures) as well as the role of lice in the transmission of typhus.
Sources and Links
Donaldson, R.J. Parasites and Western Man. Baltimore: University
Park Press, 1979.
Garcia, Lynne S. and David A. Bruckner. Diagnostic Medical Parasitology.
3rd ed. Washington D.C.: ASM Press, 1997.
Leventhal, Ruth and Russell F. Cheadle. Medical Parasitology: A Self-Instructional
Text. 5th ed. Philadelphia: F.A. Davis Company, 2002.
Orkin, Milton and Howard I. Maibach. Cutaneous Infestations and Insect
Bites. New York: Marcel Dekker, Inc., 1985.
Orkin, Milton, Howard I. Maibach, Lawrence Charles Parish and Robert
M. Schwartzmann. Scabies and Pediculosis. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott