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Using human head lice to unravel neglect and cause of death

  • Simonetta Lambiase (a1) and M. Alejandra Perotti (a2)
Abstract

Despite the common association of human lice with abandoned or neglected people, no procedure to assess pediculosis, aimed to detect signs of neglect, exists. Investigating the two most common forms of head louse infestation, regular and severe, we define lice-markers of neglect and develop a protocol and survey form to record and assess pediculosis. The study of head lice from a deceased victim of neglect helped unravel time-length since death, frequency of exposure to neglect and the cause and circumstances related to the death. Nit-clusters are markers of neglect, indicating length and frequency of neglect episodes. In the case study used here that culminated in the death of the victim, sustained abandonment started circa 2 years before discovery. The lice suggested that death was caused by overconsumption of a powerful calcium channel blocker, an antihypertensive, an excess of which in lice food supply (blood) stops oogenesis. Despite hosting thousands of adult females on the hair, lice reproduction stopped and nits were no longer developed or deposited on the hairs at the root end. This short distance of the shaft with no nits provided a time estimation of overdosing of almost 2 months before death.

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Copyright
Corresponding author
Author for correspondence: M. Alejandra Perotti, E-mail: m.a.perotti@reading.ac.uk
References
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