What is body lice?
Body lice infestation or pediculosis corporis is caused by Pediculus humanus corporis (also known as Pediculus humanus humanus), a parasitic insect which looks similar to head lice but may be a larger in size. Although called body lice, these parasites are found on the body only when it feeds. At all other times, it lives and lays eggs in the seams of clothing, towels, or bedding. Lice feed on human blood and deposit waste matter on the skin and clothing.
There are three types of lice – head lice, body lice, and pubic lice (crabs). Each louse is slightly different although it belongs to the same species. However, the lice that tend to infest one region may also uncharacteristically affect another site.
Poverty and Personal Hygiene
Poverty, poor personal hygiene, and overcrowding may be related to body lice infestation. For this reason, it is seen more commonly in homeless individuals, inmates of prison camps, and refugees. It may be transmitted from one person to another by close contact or by sharing clothing, bedding, and towels.
Close attention to personal hygiene, such as bathing regularly and changing into clean clothes, and using clean bed linen and towels will deter body lice infestation. Household pets and other animals have no role to play in the transmission of body lice. Body lice can infest people of all races and infestation may occur anywhere in the world.
Body Lice Diseases
Body lice serve as hosts of Rickettsia and Spirochetes and transmit diseases that are caused by these organisms. Thus, they may be involved in the spread of diseases such as epidemic typhus, trench fever, and louse-borne relapsing fever.
Body Lice Life Span
Body lice need to sustain themselves with human blood hence they may not survive for more than a few days if it falls off the body. However, body lice can survive starvation longer than head lice. There are three stages in the life cycle of body lice – eggs (nits), nymph, and adult lice.
Picture from Wikimedia Commons
Symptoms of Body Lice
- Severe itching and rash due to allergic reaction to bites on the skin.
- Rough discolored areas may be seen on the skin in persistent body lice infestation, particularly around the waist, groin, and upper thighs. This condition is known as Vagabond’s disease or Morbus errorum.
- Scratch marks on the skin.
- Sores and wounds on the body.
- The sores may become infected by secondary organisms.
- Head lice and pubic lice (crabs) may co-exist with body lice.
- Scabies and body lice may be seen in the same individual.
Body lice may be diagnosed by finding lice and nits on the clothing, particularly around the waist and armpit. Occasionally, lice or nits may be found on the body.
Treatment of Body Lice
Treatment is usually not necessary for body lice. Cleanliness and regular changes of clean clothes may be sufficient to deal with the problem.
- Clothing and other items should be de-infested by washing in hot water, and then machine drying using a hot cycle.
- Over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medication in the form of lotions, creams, or wash, as used in the treatment of head lice, may be necessary if other measures fail.
- OTC medication may include pyrethrin or permethrin.
- Prescription medication may include malathion, lindane, and benzyl alcohol, which have varying levels of toxicity. Ivermectin orally is rarely indicated.
- Antihistamines and calamine lotion may be given for itching due to allergic reaction.
- In most cases, however, medication is not necessary, and general measures are sufficient to get rid of body lice.
- Shaving is rarely necessary.
Appropriate therapy can cure most cases of body lice infestation.