Body lice are tiny insects that are spread through close contact with other people.
Two other types of lice are:
Lice - body; Pediculosis; Vagabond's disease
Some facts about body lice:
- Body lice live in the seams and folds of clothing. They can live there for up to a month.
- They feed on human blood, then 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 your skin or clothing.
- Body lice are bigger than other types of lice.
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.
You are more likely to get body lice if you do not bathe and wash your clothes often, or if you live in close, overcrowded conditions. Lice are not likely to last if you:
- Bathe regularly
- Wash your clothes and bedding at least once a week
Placing clothes in a hot dryer helps kill lice on clothing.
Lice cause severe itching. 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 doctor 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, most commonly around the waist and in the armpits.
You should also be checked for head and pubic 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°F or 54.4°C), then machine dry using a hot cycle.
Your health care provider may also prescribe a skin cream that will kill the lice.
Bathing and washing clothes, bedding, and towels are the 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 spread easily to others, people you live with and sexual partners need to be treated as well.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if you have lice in your clothing or itching that does not go away.
Burkhart CN, Burkhart CG, Morrell DS. Infestations. In: Bolognia JL, Jorizzo JL, Schaffer JV, et al, eds. Dermatology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 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.
- Last reviewed on 11/12/2014
- 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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