Although the feeding bite of the louse is painless, its saliva can cause an allergic reaction in many people. There can be red marks and itching at the site of the bite. Reaction severity depends on host sensitivity and number of prior exposures. Initial infestation may produce no signs or symptoms for 4 to 6 weeks. Subsequent infestations may cause itching within 24 to 48 hours. Thus, first-time infestations are often asymptomatic, and severe itching usually indicates an infestation that has been present for several weeks. 50 % of the population are asymptomatic and never itch. This may account for the high rate of re-infestation among individuals who appear to be lice-free.
Intense itching at the site of the bite compels a person to scratch, often breaking the skin. The open scratches, in turn, create an entryway for germs and lice feces and may lead to secondary infections and swollen glands in the neck.
Secondary infections are far worse than the lice themselves and often lead to far more serious problems. One of our male clients went to a pediatrician with what was assumed to be mumps. Upon examination, the pediatrician discovered that the child had head lice and a reaction to the lice saliva caused his enlarged glands. Likewise, the child’s mother had been feeling lethargic. She had complained to her doctor that she was feeling “lousy” for no apparent reason, and he treated her for depression. When she found out that her child had lice, we checked her and discovered that she also had lice. Upon the elimination of their lice problem, both returned to being physically normal.
Other lice symptoms are:
Rash at the nape of the neck
Bags under the eyes
Inability to sleep because of the nocturnal characteristic of lice
Anemia in severe cases
With a large number of lice bites, the infested individual may be feverish and feel tired and irritable due to lack of sleep, hence the term “feeling lousy.” Chronic scalp infections are not uncommon in individuals with active head lice infestations, especially in tropical climates or when daily hygiene is difficult to maintain.
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