Body lice (Pediculus humanus corporis) are small insects that feed on human blood. These parasites live and lay their eggs on human clothing and crawl onto the skin surface to suck blood. They usually feed when the host is resting, and they like to bite on soft areas where clothes are in tight contact with the skin. Body-lice infestation occurs through close contact with infested individuals, primarily those that live around crowded and unsanitary places (for example, homeless people and refugees). Because of their unclean origin, these parasitic bugs can also transmit diseases, including epidemic typhus (Rickettsia prowazekii), trench fever (Bartonella quintana) and relapsing fever (Borrelia recurrentis).
Look for tiny red dots. These itchy dots are the initial signs of body-lice bites and are commonly seen around soft, creased areas of the skin, such as the armpits, cubital fossa (crease above the elbow), underwear region, groin, upper thighs and waistline.
Look for rashes on your skin. The initial tiny red dots will eventually evolve into elevated pimple-like rashes that closely resemble German measles. These rashes are signs of your skin's allergic reactions to body-lice bites.
Inspect your skin for signs of inflammation. If you constantly scratch the bites, the red rashes will become inflamed, turning into small, light-red conical elevations with white dots on the centers.
Observe any unusual changes on the affected areas of your skin. If you have body lice for a long period of time, certain areas of your skin may become thickened and appear darker---a skin condition known as vagabond's disease. These thickened and discolored areas are most common around severely infested or bitten parts of the skin, such as the waistline, upper thighs and groin.
Watch for possible signs of irritation and infection. If you constantly itch and scratch the bites, your skin may become crusty and abraded, which can lead to formation of sores. These sores can potentially be infected by other microorganisms, such as fungi or bacteria.
Body lice look similar to head lice but are longer in length. Pubic lice (or crabs) have round bodies that distinguish them from body lice and head lice.
To get rid of body lice, take a hot bath or shower. Wash your whole body thoroughly with soap and avoid being close to others until your lice are gone. Vacuum floors, couches and other furniture. Wash your clothes, bedding and towels in hot soapy water (130 degrees Fahrenheit) and dry it on the hot cycle for 20 minutes. Ironing clothes can also help eliminate nits. If necessary, buy lice medicine in the form of shampoo, lotion or cream. Do not use lice medicine on a child younger than two years of age.
Call your doctor immediately if any of the following occurs:
• If your lice bites become severely infected, have pus and emit a foul smell.
• If you feel any unusual sensations after or when using lice medication, including dizziness, headache, hot flashes, vomiting, a burning or stinging sensation or numbness on your skin.
• If you experience any symptoms of epidemic typhus, including high fever and chills, severe headache and muscle pain, cough, skin rashes, lethargy, delirium, increase sensitivity to light and falling blood pressure that can lead to possible hypotension.
Wirnani Garner holds a Bachelor of Science degree in physical therapy and works in the medical profession. Her articles focus on health-related subjects, though Garner is proficient in researching and writing about a diverse range of topics.