Definition & Overview: Body lice are small, parasitic insects that live on the body and in the clothing and bedding of those who are infested. Body lice feed off small amounts of blood that is sucked which can cause itching, irritation and infection. In the United States, body lice are common and most prevalent in homeless people and transients who may not have regular access to laundry equipment, showers or changes of clean clothes. Body lice are similar, but not the same as head lice, pediculosis capitis, and pubic lice, phthirus pubis.
Causes: Body lice live mostly in the clothing and feed off their hosts once or twice a day. Infestations of body lice spread easily in crowded conditions where hygeine is poor. "Body lice are frequently seen among the homeless and others living in overcrowded conditions, where clothes are not washed often and where overall cleanliness is lacking."
According to IntelliHealth, female lice glue their eggs onto infected clothing. The victim's body heat allows these eggs to hatch in about a week. A female louse (one lice) can lay 10 eggs a day and 300 or more eggs in her adult life. Once hatched, the nymphs (young lice) can grow to adult stage within 9 days. Once they reach adulthood, the females will become reproductive and the infestation can exponentially worsen.
Symptoms: Symptoms of body lice are obvious as intense itching, rashes, and red welts on the skin. A long and severe infestation can lead to a general darkening and thickening of the skin. If left untreated, scratching can lead to bacterial infection. Symptoms of body lice also include infestations in one's clothing and bedding.
Diagnosis: A diagnosis of body lice can be made if the patient is subject to poor hygeine, lack of laundry facilities and skin itching and irritation with lice eggs, called nits, and lice themselves being present on the body and body hair, as well as in the clothing of the individual. Nits, nymphs and adult lice are yellow, tan and brown in color, smaller then a sesame seed and have six legs.
Treatment: Body lice are easily treated with improved hygeine practices. Patients should take a hot shower and have a clean change of clothes. Infected clothing should be discarded or burned. If this is not an option, body lice in clothing and bedding can be killed if laundered in strong soap and hot water with temperatures exceeding 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Medicated shampoos for head lice can be used on the body, but only with caution and should not be applied to sensitive areas such as the face, genital area, and anus. Medications should be applied according to the directions on the bottle or advice of a physican. Delousing agents (a type of pesticide) may be required for patients with excessive body hair.
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