Which infections may be transmitted by pediculosis and pthiriasis (lice infestation)?

Updated: Aug 16, 2019
  • Author: Lyn C C Guenther, MD, FRCPC, FAAD; Chief Editor: Michael Stuart Bronze, MD  more...
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There is no evidence indicating that any species of louse has the ability to transmit HIV. However, lice may carry S aureus and group A Streptococcus pyogenes on their surface and transmit these coagulase-positive pathogens to humans.

Pubic louse infestation is usually spread as a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Thirty percent of infested individuals may have other concurrent STDs (eg, HIV infection, syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes, genital warts). [6]

Louse-borne disease is a potential problem whenever body lice spread through a population. The body louse, P humanus corporis, is a known vector of 3 major bacterial diseases, all of which have caused epidemics: louse-borne typhus, trench fever, and louse-borne relapsing fever. Evidence shows that some infectious organisms are altered by their arthropod vector and that disease manifestations may be vector-specific. For example, bartonellosis spread by a louse has different manifestations from bartonellosis spread by a flea or biting fly. [28]

In a 2018 study of pathogens infecting 524 body lice collected from homeless persons in Algeria, several emerging pathogenic bacteria were found. B quintana, which causes trench fever, was found in 13.35% of lice specimens. In addition, Coxiella burnetii was found in 10.52% of specimens, Anaplasma phagocytophilum in 0.76%, and Acinetobacter species (Acinetobacter baumannii, Acinetobacter johnsonii, Acinetobacter bereziniae, Acinetobacter nosocomialis, Acinetobacter variabilis) in 46.94%. Neither Rickettsia prowazekii nor B recurrentis was detected. [29]

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