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What is the Difference Between Lice and Scabies?

By Jacob Queen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Lice and scabies are very different members of the mite family. One of the most obvious differences is that lice are much larger than scabies, which are basically invisible to the naked eye. Lice and scabies also have different ways of attacking people, with lice being blood drinkers and scabies burrowing deep into human flesh to propagate by laying eggs. Both have some similarities as well since they’re easily transferable and sometimes difficult to get rid of.

Different kinds of lice are adapted to live on different parts of a person’s body. One type lives in a person’s head hair, while another tends to live around the genital region, and another on the torso. Scabies are generally more uniform in that regard, but they might burrow into the skin all over the body, especially around the groin, stomach, and hands.

Both lice and scabies tend to cause terrible itching in the areas where they attack, but the itching happens for different reasons. When lice bite people to drink their blood, it causes the skin to itch. For scabies, the itching actually comes from the human immune system reacting negatively to the presence of a scabies mite inside the body.

Lice and scabies are also treated in very different ways. For lice, treatment is usually a simple matter of having the patient use some medicated shampoo, and this may have to be done two or three times. With scabies, treatment requires putting a cream on the body, and it can take a lot longer to get rid of them. There is also a much greater chance of a return infestation with scabies, and people often have to throw away a lot of their belongings due to fear of a scabies contamination.

Both lice and scabies are extremely contagious, with scabies being slightly more contagious than lice. People with lice actually have to touch each other to spread the parasites, but scabies very commonly get on people’s furniture and bedclothes. So, for example, when someone sits on a person’s couch who was infected with scabies, he or she has a good chance to get infected as well, and doctors are often extremely concerned that a single scabies case might turn into a huge outbreak.

Lice can sometimes linger a bit after they’ve been treated because their eggs are pretty durable against medicated shampoos, but scabies are a slightly different story. They leave behind body parts inside the person’s flesh, and it can take a while for these to be expelled. This can cause the person to suffer symptoms for several weeks, or even longer in some cases.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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