Lice - body

Alternative names
Body lice

Definition
Body lice are tiny parasitic insects (Pediculus humanus corporis) that can be spread by close contact with other people.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

There are 3 types of lice: head lice, body lice, and pubic lice. Body lice may be 2 to 3 mm long, whereas head and public lice are much smaller.

They feed on human blood, and they lay their eggs and deposit their fecal matter on the skin (they may also lay their eggs in clothing). Infestation by body lice causes intense itching. When body lice are not feeding on blood, they live in the seams and folds of clothing. Body lice are transmitted by contact with infected clothing and bedding as well as by direct contact with an infected person.

Risk factors include close (overcrowded) living conditions, and poor hygiene.

Symptoms

     
  • Intense itching  
  • Red bumps on the skin  
  • Lice on clothing (look in the seams)

Signs and tests
Examination of the skin and clothing is usually sufficient to determine the presence of lice. The lice infestation may be confined to the body. However, people with body lice should be checked for lice on the scalp (head lice) and lice on the groin area (pubic lice).

Treatment

Because body lice live primarily in clothing, destruction or careful washing of infected garments is most important. In addition, your doctor may recommend a prescription cream or wash.

Expectations (prognosis)
With effective treatment, the lice can be completely eliminated.

Complications

     
  • Secondary skin infection from scratching  
  • Spread of lice to others

Rarely, body lice may be carriers of uncommon disease such as relapsing fever or trench fever.

Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider if you detect lice in your clothing or have persistent itchy bites.

Prevention
Good personal hygiene and effective treatment of infected persons will prevent lice from spreading to others.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 8, 2012
by Armen E. Martirosyan, M.D.

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