It is rare for head lice to cause anaemia in children with otherwise normal blood counts. But a severe infestation could lead to chronic blood loss and iron deficiency. Even a minor infestation may trigger anaemia if it persists for a long time. In such cases, dietary assessment may be insufficient to determine the cause.
In one study, a child who suffered from a serious lice infestation was found to have anemia and associated cardiac failure. Hemoglobin levels were significantly lower in patients with body lice than in those without. Furthermore, anemia was associated with a higher percentage of patients with body lice. The study also documented previous reports of anemia requiring transfusion in patients with body lice. However, the authors cautioned caution in interpreting the results.
A search of PubMed and MEDLINE revealed a small number of case reports. There were four cases in total, involving 5 patients with anemia associated with P humanus var capitis infestation. One of these reports involved a 61-year-old man with a severe lice infestation. The other three cases involved children. In each case, extensive investigations were conducted to rule out other causes of anemia.
The infection can lead to anemia if not treated, but you can prevent it by following proper hygiene practices. Bathing regularly is essential, as is laundering bedding and clothing. If you’re not sure if your child has lice, you should consider using a magnifying glass to look at the infested area. Lice can differ in appearance depending on the species.