Symptoms of body lice

How to identify lice bites

Head lice are small, gray insects about 2–3 millimeters (mm) in length. They live on the scalp, where they feed on human blood and lay eggs at the base of hair shafts.

The eggs of head lice are commonly known as nits, and they are tiny and translucent. The empty eggshells are white, and they can remain stuck to the hair for up to 6 months. A person is most likely to find them at the nape of the neck and behind the ears.

Head lice:

  • do not transmit diseases, though their bites can occasionally expose the host to secondary infections
  • lay around six eggs a day
  • are transmitted through head-to-head contact and shared objects, including brushes, headwear, towels, and pillows

People can use the following methods to treat head lice:

Medication

People can kill head lice using chemicals called pediculicides. Pediculicides are the active ingredients in over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription shampoos and lotions.

Some common pediculicides include:

  • Permethrin or any of a group of organic compounds called pyrethrins: These work by attacking the nervous system of the lice. They are available without a prescription and are considered the first-line treatment against head lice. In recent years, however, some lice have developed a resistance to these treatments.
  • Spinosad: This is a natural insecticide found in bacteria. It is the active ingredient in the prescription lotion Natroba, which is suitable for children aged 4 years and older.
  • Ivermectin: This is available as a topical prescription medication under the brand name Sklice.

Unlike most pediculicides, which tend to kill only live insects, ivermectin can also kill newly hatched nits.

A 2012 study tested the effects of a lotion containing 0.5% ivermectin on louse eggs. The authors concluded that a single application was highly effective, even without combing for nits.

Combing

Share on PinterestAfter treatment, a person should use a nit comb.

Because some shampoos and lotions may not kill nits, a person should use a nit comb after treatment. Combing helps remove louse eggs.

Even in combination, these methods are unlikely to eradicate all the eggs on the first try.

A person should repeat the chemical treatment and combing after 7–9 days, depending on the type of medication. This is to ensure that any newly hatched lice are killed.

Natural remedies

Some insecticides contain toxins that can be harmful, and a person may prefer to use tea tree oil or nerolidol.

A 2012 study tested the efficacy of tea tree oil and nerolidol in killing head lice and their eggs in a laboratory setting. A 1 percent concentration of tea tree oil successfully killed all the lice within 30 minutes.

The same concentration of nerolidol caused half of the eggs to fail to hatch after 4 days.

The authors concluded that a combination of 1 part tea tree oil (at 0.5 percent concentration) to 2 parts nerolidol (at 1 percent concentration) could be particularly effective in killing head lice and their eggs.

However, researchers have yet to show that these oils treat lice effectively and safely in humans, particularly in children.

People can help to prevent the spread of head lice by avoiding head-to-head contact. Doctors also recommend that people, and children in particular, do not share combs, headwear, or pillows.

Body Lice

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on May 10, 2019.

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What Is It?

Body lice are small, parasitic insects found mainly on the clothing of infested people, and occasionally on their bodies or bedding. Although they are related to head lice, and look almost exactly the same, body lice rarely infest the head hair. Instead, they spend most of their life on an infested person’s clothing, crawling onto the skin to feed on the host’s blood one or more times a day.

Female lice glue their eggs on the seams of clothing worn near the skin, where body heat allows them to hatch in about a week. A female louse can produce 300 or more eggs in her adult life, at a rate of about 10 per day. Eggs require temperatures between 75° and 100° Fahrenheit to hatch. Hatchlings develop to the adult stage in about nine days if they remain close to the host, but this can take as long as four weeks if the person takes the clothing off.

Most body lice are on homeless or destitute adults who rarely change their clothes. Children rarely have body lice.

Symptoms

An infestation with body lice often causes intense itching, which is an allergic reaction to their saliva. The reaction to the bites may appear as small welt-like marks and, possibly, redness and swelling, particularly around the neck and on the torso. A heavy, long-lasting infestation may produce a darkening and thickening of the skin, fatigue and other symptoms. Scratching the bites can lead to infection.

In certain underdeveloped and war-torn parts of the world and places with poor sanitation and overcrowding, body lice may transmit the microbes that cause trench fever, louse-borne relapsing fever and louse-borne (epidemic) typhus. Trench fever and endocarditis from this infection have emerged as diseases affecting homeless and destitute populations in large cities of North America and Europe.

Diagnosis

Body lice are unable to burrow into the skin. Although a few body lice may be seen clinging to body hairs, most are on the clothing of an infested person. Body lice and their eggs are most abundant along the seams of clothes worn close to the body.

Someone infested with body lice typically will have 10 or fewer active lice on their skin at any one time. But the clothing may contain many dozens or hundreds.

Infestations of body lice are more common in the winter months, when destitute people tend to wear many layers of clothing for long periods and have more contact with the clothing of others who may be infested.

Expected Duration

Body lice infestations can continue indefinitely without treatment. Body lice can be eliminated immediately by bathing and changing into clean clothing. Occasionally, treatment of the affected person’s skin with an insecticide is required.

Prevention

Body lice are spread by direct contact with infested people and their bedding or clothing. To prevent infestation, avoid sharing clothes and bedding and close, prolonged contact with an infested person. Infested people do not need to be quarantined to avoid spreading body lice. Body lice can survive for several days on clothing removed from a person.

In regions of the world where louse-borne infections occur, quarantines, mass inspections and treatments, and other extraordinary measures are sometimes required to stop outbreaks of louse-borne disease. Such efforts, however, are not needed in North America.

Treatment

The person needs to be washed from head to toe. The main way to eliminate body lice is by removing and washing or throwing away infested clothing and bedding.

Body lice and their eggs can be killed by washing clothing in very hot water, followed by drying these items in a clothes dryer set on high heat (more than 130 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 30 minutes). Dry cleaning or pressing the clothing with a hot iron will also kill the lice and eggs. Because body lice usually do not remain on the host, changing and/or washing clothes and bedding may be enough to eliminate these pests.

People with a lot of body hair may need to be treated with a pesticide (pediculicide) that can be applied to the body to make sure lice are eliminated completely. Over-the-counter pediculicides containing pyrethrum extracts or permethrin can be effective. Other pediculicides containing other classes of insecticides are available by prescription.

When To Call A Professional

If you suspect that you have body lice, consult with your doctor or public health officials to ensure proper diagnosis and to discuss treatment options.

Prognosis

Once body lice are eliminated, the skin irritation and other symptoms go away quickly.

Learn more about Body Lice

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External resources

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Medical Disclaimer

Body Lice

What are body lice?

Body lice (also called clothes lice) are tiny insects which live and lay nits (lice eggs) on clothing. They are parasites, and they need to feed on human blood to survive. They usually only move to the skin to feed.

Body lice are one of the three types of lice that live on humans. The other two types are head lice and pubic lice. Each type of lice is different, and getting one type does not mean that you will get another type.

Body lice can spread diseases, such as typhus, trench fever, and relapsing fever.

How do body lice spread?

Body lice move by crawling, because they cannot hop or fly. One way that they spread is through physical contact with a person who has body lice. They can also spread through contact with clothing, beds, bed linens, or towels that were used by a person with body lice. You cannot get lice from animals.

Who is at risk for body lice?

Body lice is most common in people who cannot bathe and wash their clothes regularly, especially if they live in crowded conditions. In the United States, this is most often homeless people. In other countries, body lice can also affect refugees and victims of war or natural disasters.

What are the symptoms of body lice?

The most common symptom of body lice is intense itching. There may also be a rash, which is caused by an allergic reaction to the bites. The itching causes some people to scratch until they get sores. Sometimes these sores can become infected with bacteria or fungi.

If someone has body lice for a long time, the heavily bitten areas of their skin can become thickened and discolored. This is most common around your midsection (waist, groin, and upper thighs).

How do you know if you have body lice?

A diagnosis of body lice usually comes from finding nits and crawling lice in the seams of clothing. Sometimes a body louse can be seen crawling or feeding on the skin. Other times it takes a magnifying lens to see the lice or nits.

What are the treatments for body lice?

The main treatment for body lice is to improve personal hygiene. That means regular showers and washing clothes, bedding, and towels at least once a week. Use hot water to wash the laundry, and dry it using the hot cycle of the dryer. Some people may also need a lice-killing medicine.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Facts about body lice

In the past, body lice were very common. They can survive on people who rarely or never change into clean clothing. They are very rare in Norway today. In contrast, body lice are still common in parts of Africa, Asia, Central and South America.

How do body lice live?

Body lice are similar to head lice, but slightly larger, 2.5 to 3.6 mm. They mainly stay in clothing, especially in T-shirts or shirts, and sometimes in body hair. They are never found in head hair.

The eggs, often many together, are stuck with a secretion to fabric, often in the seams. Lice are most often found here. Few eggs attach to body hair.

Body lice lay twice as many eggs as head lice, approximately 180 eggs during their adult life of 25 days. The development time of body lice from egg to adult is like head lice, 20 days. If clothes with body lice are only used a few hours each day, development time will be longer. Body lice can be abundant if they live under optimal conditions. One person was reported to have 30,000 body lice, but this is not common.

As soon as the nymph (offspring) hatches, it needs blood. It will suck blood every five hours. Without blood, the louse will not survive for more than 3-4 days.

How are body lice transmitted?

Body lice are spread by physical contact or by repeatedly using the same clothes. Lice do not thrive on people with normal good hygiene who change and wash clothes in warm water.

Body lice are a problem in countries where many people live closely together under difficult conditions without changing clothes, e.g. in emergency situations such as war zones and disaster areas.

Can body lice transmit diseases?

Body lice can transmit epidemic typhus, relapsing fever and trench fever. This occurs almost exclusively in poverty-stricken war zones and disaster areas.

Getting rid of body lice

Under normal circumstances, body lice can be removed by bathing and changing clothes. Lice and eggs in clothing will die within two weeks if the clothes are not used. All stages that are not in contact with the body, except the eggs, will die within four days at a raised ambient temperature. Eggs on body hair hatch within 10 days. Lice that are on the body can be brushed or washed away.

Lice and eggs in clothing can be killed quickly by heat or cold. Wash clothes with water above 60 º C, or put the clothes in the dryer at this temperature for at least 15 minutes. A few hours in the freezer will also kill lice and eggs. Body lice are also found in beds so bedding should also be washed.

In areas of the world where body lice occur most frequently, changing and washing clothes in hot water can be difficult. Use of insecticides may then be necessary.

Body Lice

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WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

Body lice are tiny bugs that attach to your skin and live on tiny amounts of blood. Body lice like to bite soft skin areas where clothes fit tight to the body, such as the groin, waist, or armpits. Body lice are light gray and about the size of a sesame seed. Body lice are spread through contact with contaminated clothes or bedding.

What are the signs and symptoms of body lice?

Severe itching and rash are the most common symptoms of body lice.

How are body lice diagnosed and treated?

Your healthcare provider will ask you about your signs and symptoms and examine you. Lice medicine is used to kill body lice and is available without a doctor’s order. Lice medicine usually comes as a lotion or cream. Apply lice medicine to your body. Use it as directed. Throw away all lice medicine that you do not use. Keep it away from your eyes. Other medicines may also be given to decrease itching and inflammation.

How can I manage or prevent body lice?

  • Take a hot bath or shower and wash clothes and bedding. This will usually get rid of body lice. Wash all clothes, towels, and sheets in hot, soapy water. Dry them on the hot cycle for at least 20 minutes. Items that cannot be washed or dry cleaned should be sealed in an airtight plastic bag for 2 weeks. Wear clean clothes and use clean towels and sheets. Do not share towels and sheets with others.
  • Avoid contact to prevent the spread of body lice. Do not have close body contact with anyone until all your lice are gone.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You are dizzy or have nausea and vomiting after you use lice medicine.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • Your body lice do not go away, even after treatment.
  • The lice bites become filled with pus or crusty, or your skin has a bad smell.
  • Your skin burns, stings, swells, or is numb after you use lice medicine.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

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You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Symptoms and treatments

  • Body Lice
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Body lice

Definition

Body lice are tiny insects (scientific name is Pediculus humanus corporis) that are spread through close contact with other people.

Body louse

Two other types of lice are:

  • Head lice
  • Pubic lice

Head louse and pubic louse

Alternative Names

Lice – body; Pediculosis corporis; Vagabond disease

Causes

Body lice live in the seams and folds of clothing. They feed on human blood and lay their eggs and deposit waste matter on the skin and clothing.

Lice die within 5 to 7 days at room temperature if they fall off a person, but they can live in clothing for up to 1 month.

You can get body lice if you come in direct contact with someone who has lice. You can also get lice from infected clothing, towels, or bedding.

Body lice are bigger than other types of lice.

You are more likely to get body lice if you do not bathe and wash your clothes often or live in close (overcrowded) conditions. Lice are unlikely to last if you:

  • Bathe regularly
  • Wash clothes and bedding at least once a week

Lice cause severe itching. The itching is a reaction to the saliva from the insect’s bite. Itching is usually worse around the waist, under the arms, and in places where clothing is tighter and closer to the body (such as near bra straps).

You may have red bumps on your skin. The bumps may scab or become crusty after scratching.

Skin around the waist or groin may become thickened or change color if you have been infected with lice in that area for a long time.

Exams and Tests

Your health care provider will look at your skin and clothing for signs of lice.

  • Full-grown lice are the size of a sesame seed, have 6 legs, and are tan to grayish-white.
  • Nits are lice eggs. They will most often be seen in the clothing of someone with lice, usually around the waist and in the armpits.

You should also be checked for head and pubic lice if you have body lice.

To get rid of lice, take the following important steps:

  • Bathe regularly to get rid of lice and their eggs.
  • Change your clothes often.
  • Wash clothes in hot water (at least 130°F/54°C) and machine dry using the hot cycle.
  • Items that can’t be washed, such as stuffed toys, mattresses, or furniture, can be thoroughly vacuumed to get rid of lice and eggs that have fallen off the body.

Your provider may prescribe a skin cream or a wash that contains permethrin, malathione, or benzyl alcohol. If your case is severe, the provider may prescribe medicine that you take by mouth.

Outlook (Prognosis)

By taking the above mentioned steps, lice can be completely destroyed.

Possible Complications

Scratching can make your skin more likely to become infected. Because body lice spread easily to others, people you live with and sexual partners need to be treated as well. In rare cases, lice carry uncommon diseases, such as trench fever, which may be spread to humans.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your provider if you have lice in your clothing or itching that does not go away.

If you know someone is infested with body lice, avoid direct contact with that person, the person’s clothing and bedding.

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Lice Bites

How To Identify The Bite

There are three species of lice that feed on people by taking a blood meal: the pubic louse, head louse and body louse. Identification of the feeding pattern of each species is probably one of the best ways to identify bites.

  • Pubic Lice / Crab Lice The pubic or crab louse usually bites in the pubic hair, armpit hair and sometimes in the eyebrows and beards of the body.
  • Head Lice The head louse usually feeds in and around the hair on the head.
  • Body Lice The body louse does not live on the human body, but comes to the body to take a blood meal and then goes to the persons clothing to reside. Another important difference with the body louse is that it can spread serious infectious diseases.

Symptoms Of Bites Pubic Lice / Crab Lice

Pubic lice cause itching that often gets worse at night. The itching may start soon after getting bitten or it may not start for up to 2 – 4 weeks after contact. Other symptoms can include skin reactions that cause the skin to turn bluish-gray in color and sores in the genital area caused by bites and scratching. Careful examination will also result in finding both adult and immature pubic lice, plus eggs called nits.

Head Lice

Head lice also cause intense itching and small red bumps on the scalp, neck and shoulders. The tiny, white head lice eggs also called nits are glued to the hair.

Body Lice

Body lice live and lay their eggs in the seams and folds of clothing that is worn and infrequently changed and worn by people who do not have access to regular personal hygiene facilities. The body louse only moves to the body to take a blood meal. When body lice infestations are persistent, heavily bitten areas of the skin can become thickened and darkened, particularly around the waist, groin and upper thigh.

Always seek the advice and care of a physician for the treatment of lice bites.

Why Do They Bite?

Lice bite in order to get a blood meal from their host.

Risks Associated With Infections?

Some people may develop a secondary bacterial skin infection from scratching and not keeping the areas of the body that lice infest clean and disinfected.

How To Identify Bites On Pets

The lice that infest pets are different species than those infesting humans. People do not get lice from pets, nor do pets get lice from their owners. Symptoms of lice that infest dogs or cats include:

  • Itching and scratching
  • Dry, disheveled-looking coat
  • Hair loss around the ears, neck, shoulders and rectal area
  • Anemia, particularly in young pets with a severe infestation

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