Body lice are tiny insects, about the size of a sesame seed. Body lice live in your clothing and bedding and travel to your skin several times a day to feed on blood. The most common sites for bites are around the neck, shoulders, armpits, waist and groin — places where clothing seams are most likely to touch skin.
Body lice are most common in crowded and unhygienic living conditions, such as refugee camps and shelters for homeless people. They can also spread from contact with an infected person's clothes. Body lice bites can spread certain types of diseases and can even cause epidemics.
Clothing and bedding that have been infested with body lice should be laundered in hot, soapy water and machine dried using the hot cycle.
Body lice bites can cause intense itching, and you may notice small areas of blood and crust on your skin at the site of the bite marks.
See your doctor if improved hygiene doesn't remove the infestation, or if you develop a skin infection from scratching the bites.
Body lice are similar to head lice but have different habits. While head lice live in your hair and feed on your scalp, body lice usually live in your clothes and bedding. They travel to your skin several times a day to feed on blood.
Your clothing seams are the most common places for body lice to lay their eggs (nits). You can become infested with body lice if you come into close contact with a person who has body lice, or with clothing or bedding that is infested with body lice.
People who are at higher risk of body lice tend to live in crowded, unclean conditions. They include:
- War refugees
- Homeless people
- People displaced by natural disasters
Dogs, cats and other pets do not spread body lice.
Body lice infestations usually cause minimal problems. However, a body lice infestation sometimes leads to complications such as:
- Secondary infections. When body lice scratch and dig to feed on your blood, they may irritate your skin. If you scratch to relieve itching, this also can irritate your skin. If your skin becomes raw from these irritations, other infections may develop.
- Skin changes. If you're infested with body lice for a long time, you may experience skin changes such as thickening and discoloration — particularly around your waist, groin or upper thighs.
- Spread of disease. Body lice can carry and spread some bacterial diseases, such as typhus, relapsing fever or trench fever.
To prevent body lice infestation, avoid having close physical contact or sharing bedding or clothing with anyone who has an infestation. Regular bathing and changing into clean clothing at least once a week also may help prevent and control the spread of body lice.