Special Guest post:

“Ew, you have cooties!” is more than just a childish playground taunt; cooties were (and are) a real thing, and a serious problem for much of history.

The term refers to Pediculus humanus corporis, otherwise known as the human body louse. During wartime, body lice were a scourge to soldiers and civilians in crowded conditions, and were a much more dire problem than the other human lice species (head lice and pubic lice, or “crabs”). Cooties carried typhus, a disease that killed over three million people on the former Eastern Front, between 1918 and 1922. De-lousing stations set up on both sides of the conflict kept the cootie from running rampant in Western Europe, but it was still a persistent problem throughout the war. The body louse was most notably found in German concentration camps in WWII, and the typhus carried by Pediculus humanus corporis is what killed both Anne Frank and her sister Margot.

Typhus has plagued humanity for centuries, but cooties have not. The term cootie was first coined by the British army in WWI, and is presumed to be from the Malay word kutu, meaning either biting body louse or dog tick.

Today’s post by Arallyn, a humanoid from the third rock from the sun who is fascinated by science and who runs the fantastic blog biomedicalephemera.tumblr.com when she isn’t filling her mind with scientific trivia.  Check out her cool blog-I don’t know where she finds her material, but it is spectacular!

Close Nit

With Labor Day looming and the beginning of school, many of the academically minded among us turn their thoughts and eyes to topics like classroom supplies, textbooks and the likelihood little Johnny is going to come home with head lice.

It’s hard to know how many people get head lice (Pediculus humanus capitis) each year. The Centers for Disease Control estimates 6 to 12 million infestations annually in the United States among children three to 11 years of age – the most common targets.

Getting head lice is not a matter of cleanliness. The wingless parasitic insect is spread primarily by direct contact with the hair of an infested person. The most common way is head-to-head contact. Some studies suggest girls get head lice more often than boys.

Less common modes of transmission are wearing infested clothing, such as hats or scarves, using infested combs, brushes or towels or lying on a bed, couch, pillow or carpet recently in contact with an infested person.

Head lice are not known to transmit disease, but secondary bacterial skin infections may occur from scratching the infestation site. Some folks argue that beyond their basic harmlessness, head lice might actually promote health by boosting a natural immune response to body lice (Pediculus humanus humanus), which pose a more serious health threat.

Head lice spend their entire lives on human scalps, clamped onto a strand of hair, feeding exclusively on human blood. There are other species of lice that infest other mammals and birds.

Treatment involves the use of pediculicides – medicines that kill lice and their eggs. Supplemental measures include thorough cleaning of all clothes and exposed materials and grooming with a special, fine-toothed comb to extract adults and eggs, called nits.

Above: A colorized scanning electron micrograph of a nit (green) affixed to a strand of human hair, courtesy of Kevin Mackenzie, one of the winners of this year’s Wellcome Image Awards.

August 24, 2014 at 01:57AM

-culusは指小辞と呼ばれる接尾辞の一種で、pēs「足」→pediculus「小さな足」のように縮小名詞の派生に使われる。しかしこの方法で形成された縮小名詞は二次的に愛称・蔑称・「~のようなもの」という意味合いで使われることも多い。

— 陸 (@anima_solaris)

August 23, 2014
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