The itch mite
Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy, stated that seven-eighths of all chronic diseases were due to the itch. In the old dirty days many people must have had this. It is produced by a tiny mite, which burrows into the skin. There is small chance of its becoming established in the skin of reasonably cleanly people. Many of our young men, however, have been scattered about the globe in recent years without the opportunity for gracious living that many enjoyed at home. Under these conditions the itch has increased. And when such a person comes home to his family, this family finds out that it is a community affair. These little mites and their eggs get into the bedding and clothing. The treatment is bothersome and uncomfortable, and, if any one member of the family fails to be freed, it is in vain.
Another organism which has got by the protective barrier of the skin and caused much trouble for men is the pediculus, or louse. His story is a tremendously interesting one. Almost every animal has its own pet lice. Different tribes of men have their own. The natives of Africa have dark lice. The Caucasians have white ones. We about here have three separate kinds, for lice are more cliquish than college fraternities were supposed to be. Pediculus capitis frequents the hair of the head; pediculus pubis stays about the external genitals; while pediculus corporis takes all the rest of the body for its domain. They all belong to the aristocracy with a tremendously impressive ancestry. Undoubtedly the Queen of Sheba had lice as did most monarchs until fairly recent times.
Whenever conditions over a long period of time make it difficult to wash fairly frequently and change clothes, lice are pretty apt to appear. All of us in Europe during the First World War knew that body lice were almost inseparable from soldiers. There was no more familiar sight than boys sitting about picking the cooties from their clothes. I never found any on myself, although the trench fever I contracted was proof positive that they had called on me; but I imagine that except for little itching cooties are ordinarily not very bothersome.
Still I presume that nobody likes them but they do command respect. They have played a great part in the world’s history. If the patient that they bite has typhus fever or some other bad diseases, the lice themselves become infected. Many of the unfortunate creatures die, but if they live to feed upon somebody else then the result is another sick person. Typhus has been the chief disease spread in this way. Hans Zinsser in his most interesting and instructive book, Rats, Lice and History, shows us how most of the great wars have been won or lost according to the amount of typhus or other disease in the respective armies. Yet though the generals have been exalted or degraded, the louse has been ignored.