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Pediculosis capitis: new insights into epidemiology, diagnosis and treatment


Pediculosis capitis is a ubiquitous parasitic skin disease caused by Pediculus humanus capitis. Head lice are highly specialised parasites which can propagate only on human scalp and hair. Transmission occurs by direct head-to-head contact. Head lice are vectors of important bacterial pathogens. Pediculosis capitis usually occurs in small epidemics in play groups, kindergartens and schools. Population-based studies in European countries show highly diverging prevalences, ranging from 1% to 20%. The diagnosis of head lice infestation is made through the visual inspection of hair and scalp or dry/wet combing. The optimal method for the diagnosis of active head lice infestation is dry/wet combing. Topical application of a pediculicide is the most common treatment. Compounds with a neurotoxic mode of action are widely used but are becoming less effective due to resistant parasite populations. Besides, their use is restricted by safety concerns. Dimeticones, silicone oils with a low surface tension and the propensity to perfectly coat surfaces, have a purely physical mode of action. This group of compounds is highly effective and safe, and there is no risk that head lice become resistant. The control of epidemics requires active contact tracing and synchronised treatment with an effective and safe pediculicide.

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Correspondence to H. Feldmeier.

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Feldmeier, H. Pediculosis capitis: new insights into epidemiology, diagnosis and treatment. Eur J Clin Microbiol Infect Dis 31, 2105–2110 (2012).

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  • Ivermectin
  • Head Louse
  • Pyrethrin
  • Isopropyl Myristate
  • Piperonyl Butoxide