Adult body lice (Pediculus humanus humanus) are 2.3-3.6 mm in length. Unlike head lice, body lice live and lay eggs on clothing of an infested person. They do not live directly on the human host. To feed on blood, they move to host skin and bite up to several times a day. Their eggs (nits) are fixed to clothing fibers and seams or, occasionally, to body hairs.
Body lice infestations can spread rapidly under crowded and low hygiene conditions or lack of regular bathing and clean clothes (homeless, refugees, and victims of natural disasters).
Body lice cause nuisance and intense itching.
They are known to spread serious diseases such as epidemic typhus, trench fever, and louse-borne relapsing fever .
Recent studies in the US shows that the trench fever-related bacterium Bartonella quintana can also causes other deadly diseases (Endocarditis, Bacillary angiomatosis, Peliosis, and Chronic bacteremia) among homeless populations and immune-compromised person.
Body lice are spread through prolonged direct contact with a person who has body lice or through contact with articles such as clothing, beds, bed linens, or towels that have been in contact with infested persons.
Home pets do not transmit body lice.
Body Lice Life Cycle
Body lice have three stages: the egg (also called a nit), the nymph, and the adult.
1.Nits (eggs) - Attached to the seams of clothing, particularly around the waistline and under armpits. Nits hatch in 1–2 weeks.
2.Nymphs or immature lice. Feed on blood and develop into adults (9–12 days)
3.Adult body lice - With 6 legs, the size of a sesame seed, tan to grayish-white in color, feed on blood to live. Females lay eggs.
Body lice bites cause intense itching, or red bumps on the skin. These are seen at waistband, armpits, and other areas where clothing is close or tight to host skin.
Scratching makes skin scabbed or crusted. Skin around the waist and groin may get thickened or discolored after long infestation.
Improve personal hygiene with regular bathing and change of clean clothing in combination with delousing is a very effective way to treat body lice.
Pediculicides are not very necessary if personal hygiene and delousing of personal items are well done. In severe cases, patient may need to consult their doctors for pediculicide medications.
Delousing includes dry clean/hot wash of clothes and bedding at a high temperature (130F or 54C) for 5 minutes. Body lice cannot live more than 2 days without blood feeding. Vacuuming or sealing off un-washable items in plastic bags for at least 2 weeks can kill both lice and nits.
In case of a serious infestation, destroying/discarding pieces of infested clothing is an option.
Members of crowded households and persons who are exposed to infestation also need to be checked for lice/nits and treated.