Body lice are small parasitic insects that consume human blood. They are similar to, but not the same as, lice that reside in the hair. Since they only affect humans, you can’t get lice from animals like dogs or cats, but they can be easily passed between humans, especially in crowded living conditions or when hygiene is poor.
You’re most likely to see body lice in your waist or groin area. They are about the size of a sesame seed and their eggs look like small white or gray dots. You won’t often see them on your skin; instead, they live in the seams of your clothing and bedding and come out to eat.
Lice bite to access your blood, and their bites can cause itching and red bumps. Since your body is actually allergic to the bites of body lice, you are likely to experience a red rash around the area where the lice live.
If lice have been living on or near your skin for a long time, you may have thicker or darker skin in that area.
In addition to causing itching and discomfort, body lice can transmit certain types of bloodborne diseases (such as epidemic typhus, trench fever, and louse-borne relapsing fever), so they are not harmless and should be eradicated as soon as possible.
Body lice are a common parasite that infects humans. They do not normally find their way to humans via animals. Instead, body lice are typically transported to people by other people who have got body lice. Those who don’t practice good hygiene and other habits are the likely carriers.
Body lice infestations are caused all over the world, but the uniting factor is close contact between people, or using the same bedding, towels and clothes. As a result of these causes, the people most likely to have body lice infestations can’t access clean clothes or live in crowded, unhygienic conditions. Therefore, people who are homeless, are war refugees or are victims of national disasters may be particularly likely to have body lice.
After the lice have transferred to someone, they stay on that person because the infected person does not observe common hygiene habits.
Washing your body with soap and warm water, and your clothing and bedding in hot water, is usually enough to remove body lice. Use a clothes dryer to dry clothes and bedding to ensure that the lice are dead.
For severe infestations, your doctor may prescribe medication that kills lice. Because of the possible toxicity of pesticides that kill lice, it’s usually best to carefully wash and practice good hygiene before using chemicals for treatment.
For the most part, maintaining good personal hygiene and regularly washing bedding and clothing should be enough to prevent body lice infestations. Washing them in hot water of a temperature that is at least 130 degrees, followed by drying in hot air with a machine, should kill them.
If you are concerned that you might have come into contact with someone who has body lice, you might want to visit your doctor, who can prescribe a wash medication. This will kill any lice you have on your body, as well as clothes and bedding materials. Fortunately, once they are addressed, body lice are easy to get rid of.
In some rare cases, pediculicides, which are medicines to kill lice, can be used to treat an infestation. They may be toxic to humans, though – make sure you read the instructions correctly and follow any safety procedures. This is only a last resort, as in many cases proper laundry and personal hygiene should prevent the problem from getting worse.