Are Head Lice and Pubic Lice the Same? Uncomfortable Health Questions Answered

Head lice and pubic lice are actually two distinct parasitic insects from the same family. The medical name for head lice is Pediculus humanus capitis and the medical name for pubic lice is Pthirus pubis. Head lice generally remain on the scalp and the hair growing from the scalp. Pubic lice generally remain on the genital area but can sometimes spread to other areas with course hair (such as armpits, beards, and eyelashes).

Many people wonder how easy it is to contract pubic lice. The truth is pubic lice are most commonly spread through intimate or sexual physical contact. You cannot get lice from a family pet and lice cannot jump or fly from person to person. In addition, it is almost impossible to get lice from toilet seats. Sometimes lice can be contracted by sharing towels, blankets, or clothing from an infested person but this type of transfer is relatively rare.

There are many questions regarding the implications of children with pubic lice. It is possible for children to accidently contract pubic lice from sleeping in their parents’ bed. On the other hand, pubic lice can sometimes indicate sexual abuse in children and should be taken very seriously. In these instances, a health care provider should be contacted and further steps taken to determine where the child contracted the pubic lice.

There is a lot of controversy on how to wash and treat potentially infested garments and linens. The best method for cleaning these objects is using at least 130º F hot water to wash and drying them at the highest temperature available. If there are objects that can’t be washed or dry-cleaned, they can be put in a plastic bag and sealed for two weeks to kill any possible lice.

Many individuals wonder why a second treatment for lice is occasionally necessary. This happens because lice eggs are sometimes not affected by medicine due to their protective shells. A second treatment is used to combat the new lice after they hatch from their eggs. This is a good way to avoid reinfestation and protect others from contracting lice.

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Simple Tips for Prevention

  • Teach Good Habits. Personal belongings such as brushes, hats, and towels can pass lice. So don't share.
  • Be Aware of Shared Spaces. Keep personal items (hats, coats, etc) out of common areas.  
  • Avoid Outbreaks. If you know of an outbreak, avoid locations where head-to-head contact would occur like sporting activities.