Body lice are tiny insects the size of a sesame seed. Body lice live in your clothing and bedding and travel to your skin several times a day to feed on blood. The most common places for bites are the neck, shoulders, armpits, waist and groin – places where garment seams are most likely to touch the skin.
Under overcrowded and unhygienic living conditions such as refugee camps, body lice are most common and shelters for the homeless. Biting body lice can spread certain types of diseases and even cause epidemics.
Clothing and bedding infested with lice should be washed in hot soapy water and machine dried in the hot cycle.
Symptoms  Body lice bites can cause severe itching, and you may notice small spots of blood and crust on your skin at the site of the bite marks.
Ask your doctor if improved hygiene does not eliminate the infestation or if you develop a skin infection by 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 usually live in your clothes and bedding. They travel to your skin several times a day to feed on blood.
The seams of your clothes are the most common places where body lice lay their eggs (nits). You can become infected with body lice if you come in close contact with a person who has body lice, or with clothing or bedding that is infected with body lice.
People at higher risk for body lice tend to live in crowded, impure conditions. These include:
- war refugees
- victims of natural disasters
Dogs, cats and other pets do not spread any body lice.
Infestation with body lice usually causes minimal problems. However, infestation with body lice sometimes leads to complications such as:
- secondary infections. When body lice scratch and dig to feed on their blood, they can irritate your skin. Scraping to relieve the itching can also irritate your skin. If your skin becomes rough from these irritants, other infections may develop.
- lesions. If you have a long history of body lice, it can cause skin changes such as thickening and discoloration of the waist, groin or thighs.
- Disease spread. Body lice can transmit and spread some bacterial diseases such as typhus, relapsing fever or trench fever.
You or Your Doctor Normally, a body lice infestation can be confirmed by a visual examination of your body and your garments. The presence of eggs and moving lice confirms the infestation.
Body lice are treated primarily by thoroughly washing themselves and contaminated objects with soap and hot water. Also, the dry cleaning and ironing of clothing that can not be washed is effective.
If these measures do not work, you can use an over-the-counter lotion or a shampoo like Nix or Rid. If that still does not work, your doctor may provide you with a prescription lotion. Lice killing products can be toxic to humans. Follow the instructions carefully.
Preparing for an Appointment
If you can not get rid of body lice by yourself, you may need to talk to your family doctor.
What You Can Do
Before you make an appointment, answer the following questions:
- How long did you think you had lice?
- What symptoms occur?  How were you affected by body lice?
- Did you transfer the infestation to others?
- What treatments did you try?
- Do you have chronic health problems?
- What medications and supplements do you take?
What you should expect from your doctor
During the physical exam, your doctor will examine your skin and the seams of your clothing.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Normally, you can get rid of body lice by cleaning yourself and any personal items that may be contaminated. Wash infested bedding, clothing and towels with hot soapy water (at least 54 ° C) and dry for at least 20 minutes over high heat.
Clothing that can not be washed can be chemically cleaned and ironed.
Items that can not be washed should be sealed in a plastic bag and kept in a warm place for two weeks. Mattresses, sofas and other upholstered furniture should be hot ironed or sprayed with lice-repellent products to remove eggs from the seams. Exposure to infested objects should be avoided for two weeks.
To prevent infestation with body lice, avoid tight body contact and sharing of bedding or clothing with people who have an infestation. Regular bathing and changing to clean clothing at least once a week can also help prevent and control the spread of body lice.
Updated on: 2017-08-04
Release date: 2008-06-27