Quantification of blood intake of the head louse: Pediculus humanus capitis

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Abstract

Although head lice, Pediculus humanus capitis, are globally prevalent blood-sucking ectoparasites, the amount of blood imbibed by head lice has not been determined. This study investigated this parameter, as regular loss of a small quantity of blood may lead to an iron deficiency and anaemia. Adult female lice (66), adult males (46), and nymphs (152) were weighed before and after feeding in groups of 17–109 lice. The average amounts of blood imbibed at a single feed were: adult female louse (0.0001579 ml), adult male (0.0000657 ml) and nymph (0.0000387 ml). Assuming three feeds per day by an average infection of 30 lice (10 females, 10 males, and 10 nymphs), the average child with active pediculosis would loose 0.008 ml of blood per day. This amount of blood loss is of no clinical significance even in iron-deficient children. The most heavily infected child observed with 2657 lice could be expected to loose 0.7 ml/day or 20.8 ml/month, which may be of clinical importance in a child on an adequate diet, and would be significant in an iron-deficient child. However, if head lice feed more often than three times a day, a heavy infestation would have a greater potential to lead to iron deficiency. The frequency of feeding of head lice on the head of the human host needs to be determined.

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