Clinical Presentation

Management and Prevention

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 squalor.
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 Company, 1977.