Being human, we often think about what we’re going to eat throughout the day because our food provides us with nourishment. We have to eat to live! Conversely, we rarely— if ever— give a thought about how our bodies are also used as hosts to help insects like lice and mites thrive and survive on a daily dose of fresh blood (lice) or sebum (mites) that we provide to them.
In the United States, children between the ages of 3 to 11 years of age are at the highest risk of becoming infected with head lice; The CDC estimates that 6 million to 12 million infestations occur each year within that age group. However, before you brush this pesky condition off as a headache specific to children, adults have become infected with not only head louse, Pediculus humanus capitis, but also mites, genus Demodex.
How Are Lice and Mites Transferred?
Children generally get infected with head lice when they attend school, and of course, once they are infected, they can infect the whole family. However, in adults, a lice infestation isn’t always the result of being near an infected child. Adults can also get head lice from sharing hats, scarves, pillows, brushes, combs, hair accessories, and yes, even sitting on a sofa or taking a selfie.
Similarly, in the world of mites, there is one that is transferred, like lice, through human contact and also through their eggs that can dwell in dust; and in addition, there are two types of mites that live on our bodies and have always co-existed with us.
Are Lice and Mites Harmful?
Head lice do not pose a medical health risk. They tend to only be a nuisance because they can infect everything and everyone that you come in contact with, which can make it challenging to completely get rid of them.
As I stated earlier, there are three types of mites that prefer to use humans as hosts. Two of them, the Demodex Folliculum and Demodex Brevis are natural habitants on our bodies and their impact on human health is generally benign. The third mite, Sarcarptes Scabiei, is a mite that is transferred via direct contact and is known to do damage to our skin and hair.
- Demodex Folliculum and Demodex Brevis
Both, the Demodex Folliculum and the Demodex Brevis live in harmony with us on our bodies 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Luckily, 99% of the time, we’ll never know that they are present. However, if someone has a weakened immune system or excessive hormones, these two mites can multiply rapidly and cause an infestation that can lead to minor or severe health problems.
- Demodex Folliculum or follicle mites—Is a mite that lives in the hair follicles in the facial area and has been linked to acne, blackheads, and rosacea. Follicle mites have also been linked to inflammation of the eyelashes and blepharitis. These conditions can lead to itchy eyelids, loss of eyes lashes, and flaky eyelid skin.
- Demodex Brevis—Is a less prevalent mite that prefers to live in the sebaceous glands; it can be found on any part of the human body–including the face. They are also linked to the same health risks as the Demodex Folliculum mite.
Again, the health risks mentioned above are not that serious. However, if left unchecked, the skin can become extremely itchy and inflamed, which can lead to a possible bacterial infection due to excessive scratching.
There’s also been research that suggests that these two mites are linked to hair loss, as well. Jerry Buttler, a professor at the University of Florida, strongly believes that there is a link between the Dermodex mite and hair thinning and/or hair loss. Buttler goes on to say that sloughing of the skin can occur if there is an infestation. I think it’s important to note that the Demodex mite has not previously been associated with hair loss, and at this time there isn’t any conclusive evidence, therefore, more research still needs to be done.
- Sarcarptes Scabiei
Again, this mite isn’t naturally found on our bodies. However, scabies mites are transferred via people who are sexually active, people who are incarcerated, and people who live or work in crowded spaces.
Sarcarptes Scabiei (Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis) or scabies mite — Is a mite that burrows in the upper layer of human skin and can also be found all over the human body. If someone is infested, the following symptoms can occur: severe itchy skin, a rash resembling a pimple, blisters or scales, and ultimately, sores from excessive scratching. Overtime, this might lead to hair loss if the infestation is on the scalp.
Note: Mites found on animals do not thrive on human skin. If you are infected by a dog, bird, mouse, or reptile, you will have minor, acute symptoms such as itching or redness that resolves very quickly.
How To Treat Lice and Mites?
- Treating Lice
Everyone who lives with an infected person should be treated at the same time to prevent a re-infestation. The first step would be to wash all personal items, including bedding in soapy hot water. Next, use one of these OTC medicine to treat the infestation:
- Permethrin (Nix)— Permethrin is a synthetic version of pyrethrin. This medicine has side effects that include redness and itching of the scalp.
- Pyrethrin with additives (Rid, A200 Lice Treatment)— Pyrethrin is combined with another chemical to increase toxicity. The side effects include itching and redness of the scalp. Note that if you are allergic to chrysanthemum or ragweed, Pyrethrin shouldn’t be taken.
Please note that sometimes OTC medicines do not work because mites have mutated and become resistant to these treatments. If this happens, the following prescription medications should work:
- Benzyl alcohol (Ulesfia)—This medicine has a non-toxic effect on mites- It kills them by simply depriving them of oxygen. It has similar side effects as the OTC medicines—redness and itching of the scalp. Warning, children under 6 months of age should not be treated with this medicine because it’s been shown to cause seizures and serve reactions in new born babies.
- Ivermectin (Sklice)—Ivermectin is a drug that’s approved for anyone aged 6 months or older.
- Spinosad (Natroba)—Spinosad is approved for use with people age 6 months or older.
- Malathion (Ovide)—Malathion is approved for people age 6 and older and should not be used with a hair dryer or near open flames because of its high alcohol content.
If none of the above treatments work, Lindane will be your last resort because of the severe side effects, including seizures. The Food and Drug Administration warns it should not be used on anyone pregnant, breastfeeding, has a history of seizures, has an HIV infection, or who weighs less than 110 pounds. In addition, the American Academy of Pediatrics do not recommend it’s use on children.
- Treating Mites
Just like lice, everyone living in the household with a person infected with mites should be treated at the same time. All clothing and bedding should be thoroughly washed in hot water. Before washing these items, it might be wise to tie all personal items up in a plastic bag for a few days because mites can’t live long outside of a host. A doctor might prescribe an oral medication in addition to the metronidazole cream that’s applied topically.