Pediculosis and scabies, both caused by the arthropods, are two different diseases that have many similarities. Here’s what you need to know about them. Both pediculosis and scabies cause extreme itching. In pediculosis, the itching starts a couple of weeks after infestation. The louse saliva causes an allergic reaction, which stimulates the itching. With scabies, the itching is present as well, but there will be a noticeable rash and blisters that are “zig-zag” in appearance.


(Left) Pediculus humanus capitis (head louse). The adult female has a slightly larger abdomen than the male. The human body louse is similar in appearance to the head louse. (Right) Phthirus pubis (pubic, or crab louse).

Three lice are the cause of pediculosis. One affects the head, one the pubic area, and one can affect the entire body. In most cases, it can be confirmed if lice are detected in the hair or pubic area. Combing the hair can usually catch an egg or lice that are visible to the eye. Body lice can be confirmed if the itching also has signs of excoriations. It is fairly common to see homeless people who live in dirty conditions with lice.


Treating pediculosis of the hair, body, and pubic area are all the same. Cleaning products with the ingredients of permethrin or malathion are used. Cleanliness is extra important during nfestation. Without the correct hygiene, treatments won’t be successful. Pillowcases, sheets, clothes, towels and washcloths should all be treated at the same time, by cleaning them in very hot water and drying in hot heat.


Scabies is caused by a mite called the Sarcoptes scabiei. Scabies also causes itching due to the mites, eggs and fecal pellets causing a sensitive reaction to the skin. Usually the rash will show up on the hands, feet and folds of the body. Similar to pediculosis human contact is what transmits the parasite. The mites can live four days on the host and can lay eggs during that time. When the female goes under the skin, they lay ten to 25 eggs at a time. Within three days the eggs have hatched and the mite moves to the top of the skin.


Treatment for scabies is a topical agent that is made of permethrin cream. It is safe to use and very effective. There can be minor itching upon application. After bathing or showering, the cream is applied to the body from the neck down to the toes and then washed off after about 15 hours. Usually retreatment is not necessary unless there is a new infestation of lesions. Scabies as well is found in homeless people often times due to poor hygiene conditions. Scabies attack the fingers, wrists, armpits and waistline normally. Towels, sheets, pillowcases and all other clothing need to be washed in hot water and dried in hot heat. Clipping the fingernails low will help kill any eggs or mites that have hidden there.

Both scabies and pediculosis can reoccur over and over again. In some cases, the parasites are resistant to treatment, but if the directions are followed correctly, it should prevent it from coming back again. Taking care of one’s self with meticulous hygiene efforts will also help to prevent reoccurrence.