Body lice are tiny insects (Pediculus humanus corporis) that are spread through close contact with other people.
Two other types of lice are:
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.
You can catch 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:
Placing clothes in a hot dryer helps kill lice on clothing.
Lice causes severe itching. Itching is usually worse around the waist, under the arms, and 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.
Your doctor will look at your skin and clothing for signs of lice.
You should also be checked for head and public lice if you have body lice.
Body lice mainly live in clothing. To get rid of lice, destroy infected clothing or carefully wash items in hot water (at least 130 degrees F), then machine dry using a hot cycle.
Your doctor may also prescribe a cream that you put on your skin or a wash that contains permethrin, malathione, or benzyl alcohol.
Bathing and washing clothes, bedding, and towels are most important steps in treating lice. Doing these things usually gets rid of the problem.
With effective treatment, the lice can be completely destroyed.
Scratching can make your skin more likely to become infected. Rarely, lice may carry uncommon diseases, such as trench fever. Because body lice spreads easily to others, people you live with and sexual partners need to be treated as well.
Call your health care provider if you have lice in your clothing or itching that does not go away.
Lice - body; Pediculosis; Vagabond's disease
Burkhart CN, Burkhart CG, Morrell DS. Infestations. In: Bolognia JL, Jorizzo JL, Schaffer JV, et al, eds. Dermatology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2012:chap 84.
Diaz JH. Lice (pediculosis). In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 293.
Updated by: Richard J. Moskowitz, MD, Dermatologist in Private Practice, Mineola, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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