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Body Lice: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

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Body lice are small insects that live in clothing and bedding of people with body lice infestation. Body lice closely resemble head lice, but are much less common.

A single body louse is a small, wingless, flat insect that feeds on blood to survive. Infestation with body lice results in a condition called pediculosis.

Body lice lay eggs, or nits, on or near clothing seams. Immature lice, called nymphs, and adult lice both move to the skin to feed on blood.

Body lice infestations usually cause severe itching and a rash at the site of louse bites. Some people do not have any symptoms at all. Most people recover from body lice infestations without using medication.

Body lice

Who is likely to have a body lice infestation?

Anyone can have body lice. Body lice affect people of all ages and races around the world.

Body lice occur most often among people living in crowded conditions without regular access to clean clothes, bedding, and personal hygiene products.

What causes body lice infestations?

Body lice spread by direct, person-to-person contact or from sharing clothing, bedding, towels, or other linens that infested people have used and have not been properly cleaned.

What are the symptoms of body lice infestations?

For most people, body lice infestations cause severe itching and rash around areas of skin that are bitten by lice.

You may also notice lice or lice eggs on your skin, clothing, or bedding. Lice eggs, called nits, are yellow-white and oval.

Nits are generally easy to see on clothing or bedding, especially around the seams. Adult lice are about the size of a sesame seed and are greyish-white or tan.

How are body lice infestations diagnosed?

Your doctor diagnoses body lice by examining your skin for lice and rashes. Symptoms like severe itching also help your doctor make a definite diagnosis.

How are body lice infestations treated?

Most people successfully treat body lice infestations by improving personal hygiene. Treatment involves regularly bathing and cleaning clothes, bedding, and other fabric items, like towels.

Clothing or other fabrics infested by body lice should be washed in water at 149 degrees Fahrenheit (the hottest setting). After washing, dry items in a hot clothes dryer for at least 30 minutes. Ironing your clothing also helps kill nits and adult lice. Put things that cannot be washed into a sealed plastic bag for 2 weeks.

Vacuum carpets and furniture.

If a body lice infestation affects most of your body, or if you cannot bathe and wash clothes and other items regularly, your doctor may prescribe medications to kill the lice, particularly if nits are found in body hair. The most common medication is permethrin.

What complications are associated with body lice infestations?

If a body lice infestation is long-term, or if lice heavily bite areas of your skin, your skin may thicken and become discolored.

Frequently scratching rashes or other itchy areas can tear your skin. Scratching may cause sores or other infections to develop in the skin.

Body lice can transmit diseases like typhus (a bacterial infection causing rashes, fever, and headaches), trench fever, and louse-borne relapsing fever.

Can body lice infestations be prevented?

You can prevent body lice infestations by regularly bathing, and washing clothing, bedding, and other personal items.

What is the prognosis (outlook) for people with body lice?

Most people with body lice recover without medication.

When should I call my doctor if I think I might have body lice?

If you see nits or adult lice on your skin, clothing, or bedding, or if you develop an itchy rash on your skin, particularly near clothing seams, your doctor can help determine whether you have body lice.

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