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J Cutan Med Surg. 2006 Jan-Feb;10(1):2-6.

Bacterial symbiotes, their presence in head lice, and potential treatment avenues.

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  • 1Department of Dermatology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA.



Pediculus humanus capitis (head lice) belongs to the order Anoplura, which are blood-feeding ectoparasites that live on human hair. Within these insects reside symbiotic bacteria that enable the insect to flourish on dietary sources of limited nutritional value. These symbiotic bacteria are essential to the survival of the insect.


To assess the feasibility of treating head lice by altering their symbiotic bacteria.


In addition to a literature review of the expanded role of symbiotic bacteria in other organisms, the anatomic localization of their presence in human head lice and molecular characterization of the head louse symbiont were analyzed.


Anatomically, the bacterial symbiotes are localized to the midgut mycetome in males and the ovaries in females. The 16S ribosomal ribonucleic acid phylogenetic analysis was presented. Features of this bacterial symbiote may make this symbiont accessible as a target for pediculocidal and ovicidal therapy by altering its habitat and existence.


An understanding of the nature of bacterial symbiotes of head lice might lead to alternative strategies for eradication or inhibition of these necessary bacteria, thereby controlling head lice with less toxic agents than conventional insecticides, to which the organism continues to increase its resistance.

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