Insights About Head Lice Transmission From Field Data and Mathematical Modeling

J Med Entomol. 2018 Jun 28;55(4):929-937. doi: 10.1093/jme/tjy026.


Head lice infest millions of school-age children every year, both in developed and developing countries. However, little is known about the number of lice transferred among children during school activities, because direct methods to study this are almost impossible to implement. This issue has been addressed following an indirect method, which consist in collecting data of real infestation from several children groups and using a mathematical model of lice colonies to infer how the infestation observed might have evolved. By determining the events that would most likely lead to infestations as those observed, we find that severe infestations are most likely initiated by a relatively large number of lice transferred at the same moment or within relatively short time spans. In turn, analysis of the data obtained from screenings of the same groups of children a few days apart shows evidence of such transmission events. Interestingly, only children with severe infestations could harbor the lice necessary for this type of transmission. Thus, they play the same role as 'superspreaders' in epidemiology. As part of our experimental study it is also shown that a simple procedure of combing can be very effective to remove all mobile lice, and thus could be used as an effective preventive measure against those severe infestations that are responsible for the spread of pediculosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Argentina / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lice Infestations / epidemiology
  • Lice Infestations / transmission*
  • Male
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Pediculus / physiology*