Body Lice (Pediculosis)

Commonly referred to as body lice, pediculosis is caused by parasitic insects that inhabit surfaces of the human body, our clothes, or any bedding material such as sheets and pillow cases. Pediculosis can impact people all over the world, regardless of race, gender, and age. Typically, body life tends to transmit very quickly through a concentration of people, especially if hygienic conditions are poor. Body lice spreads from contact with contaminated articles or infected individuals.

For someone who washes and changes clothes regularly and practices good hygiene, Pediculosis will not persist. In the United States, body lice are a problem that is especially bad for the homeless due to a lack of resources such as showers and fresh clothes available to them.

Body lice usually lay their eggs in the seams of fabrics. There have been instances of body lice eggs found on the hair of infected individuals. It should be noted that when lice is found on the head or head hairs of a person, the case is categorized as head lice rather than body lice.

Body lice cause itching and can result in rashes. Such symptoms are the human body’s natural allergic reaction to the bites of the lice. If body lice persist in an individual for a long period of time, symptoms may include discoloration and thickening of the individual’s skin, especially in the upper thighs, waist, and groin areas. Any sores caused by body lice risk becoming infected with fungi and bacteria and should be cared for appropriately.

Body lice pose the risk of transmitting diseases such as louse-borne relapsing fever and typhus. During tumultuous historical periods of war and natural disasters, body lice have been known to create epidemics by spreading disease in crowded, unsanitary areas. Typhus still poses a threat where poverty and climate make conditions for body lice ideal.

Body lice have three noticeable forms: the egg, the nymph form, and the adult form. The egg form of body lice are sometimes called nits. They are about the size of a poppy seed and have an oval shape and a yellowish to white coloring. It takes a nit up to a month to hatch into the nymph form. The nymph is a baby louse and looks like a smaller version of the adult body louse. It takes a baby louse approximately one week to become an adult. During that time, the nymph consumes blood.

The adult louse is approximately as big as a sesame seed. An adult louse has six legs and grayish white to tan in coloring. Female lice lay eggs while both male and female lice continue to feed on blood in the adult form. If lice lose contact with the host and fall off, the lice will die without any blood for ten days.

Body lice can be diagnosed by examining the body and clothing of the patient. If you suspect that you are infected, consult your doctor for advice on how to proceed. Treatment typically entails a shower using shampoo with permetherin or pyrethrin and a change of clothes. Thorough laundering with water at approximately 130°F of all fabrics in the house is recommended. The dry cycle should be very hot as well. Your doctor may also recommend topical medications for your body.

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