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Wellcome Image of the Month: Busting Bugs

18 Jan, 2013

Head louse clinging to hairs

The 31st of January is the first of three National Bug Busting Days this year, followed by 15 June and 31 October. Bug Busting days aim to increase awareness, detection and treatment of head lice and nits to reduce their spread in the community.

This scanning electron micrograph was created by Garry Hunter with David Randall at the School of Biological Sciences, University of Sussex, and forms part of his Small World series of work. It shows a head louse (coloured yellow) clinging onto three strands of human hair (coloured red). Adult head lice can be up to 4 mm in length which is roughly equivalent to the size of a sesame seed. To prepare the sample for imaging, the head louse was first pickled in various strengths of alcohol solution to prevent the exoskeleton from collapsing. It was then dried, sprayed with a fine gold dust, and imaged under vacuum by firing electrons through the sample at the required depth. This image received a 2005 Wellcome Image Award of Excellence.

Head lice or Pediculus humanus capitis are insects which live in close proximity to the human scalp and feed on human blood. They lay eggs (nits) which are white or yellow in colour and firmly attach to the hair shaft near the scalp. They do not have wings nor can they jump. Instead they are most commonly spread by close head to head contact. They are not known to spread disease. Head lice bites and secretions on the scalp can cause itchiness, and treatment is either with chemicals (to kill the lice) or using physical methods (to remove the lice) such as repeated combing with a fine-toothed comb.

Founded in 1988, Community Hygiene Concern is a not-for-profit charity that raises awareness of common parasites found in the UK.

Garry Hunter is now Director of Programming for First Weekends at Trinity Buoy Wharf in East London, where he commissions works that look at the links between art and science.

References and Further Information

Image credit: Garry Hunter, Wellcome Images

Wellcome Images is one of the world’s richest and most unusual collections, with themes ranging from medical and social history to contemporary healthcare and biomedical science. All our images are available in digital form so please click the link above if you would like to use the picture that features in this post, or to quickly find related ones. Many are free to use non-commercially under the terms of a Creative Commons licence and full details of the specific licence for each image are provided.

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