Body lice are tiny insects, about the size of a sesame seed. Body lice live in your clothing and travel to your skin several times a day to feed on blood. The most common sites for bites are around the waist, groin and armpits — places where clothing seams are most likely to touch skin.
Body lice are most common in crowded and unhygienic living conditions, such as refugee camps and shelters for the homeless. Body lice bites can spread certain types of diseases and can even cause epidemics.
Clothing and bedding that have been infested with body lice should be laundered in hot soapy water and machine dried using the hot cycle.
Body lice bites can cause intense itching.
See your doctor if improved hygiene doesn't eliminate the infestation, or if you have developed a skin infection from scratching the bites.
Body lice are similar to head lice, but have different habits. While head lice live in your hair and feed on your scalp, body lice typically live in your clothes and bedding. They travel to your skin several times a day to feed on blood.
The seams of your clothing are the most common places for body lice to lay their eggs (nits). You can become infested with body lice if you come into close contact with a person who has body lice, or with clothing or bedding that is infested with body lice.
People who are at higher risk of body lice include:
Body lice infestations usually cause minimal problems. However, a body lice infestation sometimes leads to complications such as:
Preparing for your appointment
If you can't get rid of body lice on your own, you may need to talk to your family doctor.
What you can do
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
You or your doctor can usually confirm a body lice infestation through a visual examination of your body and clothing items. The presence of eggs and moving lice confirms infestation.
Treatments and drugs
Body lice are primarily treated by thoroughly washing yourself and any contaminated items with soap and hot water.
If these measures don't work, you can try using an over-the-counter lotion or shampoo — such as Nix or Rid. If that still doesn't work, your doctor can provide a prescription lotion. Lice-killing products can be toxic to humans, so follow the directions carefully.
Lifestyle and home remedies
You can usually get rid of body lice by cleaning yourself and any personal belongings that may be contaminated. Wash infested bedding, clothing and towels with hot, soapy water — at least 130 F (54 C) — and dry them at high heat for at least 20 minutes.
Items that can't be washed may be sealed in a plastic bag for two weeks.
To prevent body lice infestation, avoid having close physical contact or sharing bedding or clothing with anyone who has an infestation.
Last Updated: 2010-06-26
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