How to Get Rid of Body Lice
Body lice (Pediculus humanus corporis) are small wingless insects, slightly larger than head lice. As parasites, body lice reside on the human body causing a condition called pediculosis. Body lice hide in clothing and bedding, especially along seams, and they move by crawling. Once they infest an area, they tend to spread to all family members although they don’t bother the family’s pets.
Taking up Residence
On their human host, body lice move onto the skin a few times daily to feed off the body’s blood. They also lay their eggs and leave their waste matter on the skin and clothing. Their presence can cause intense itching, bug bites, scabbing, crusting, and rash.
Because they nest along seams and parts of clothing that adhere to the body, the skin near waistbands, on the shoulders, buttocks, abdomen or under bra straps are most often affected. Scratching the affected areas can lead to infection. Rarely, body lice can act as vectors, transmitting other diseases, including relapsing fever, typhus, and trench fever.
How Body Lice Spread
Body lice spread through contaminated clothing and through direct contact with infected persons. They’re more common in crowded conditions and in conditions of poor hygiene. Robust, body lice can survive for up to 30 days without contact with a human host. An adult female louse can lay as many as 10 eggs daily and 300 or more eggs during her lifetime. Having a short life cycle, freshly hatched lice can reach adulthood within 9 days. When female adults begin reproducing, the infestation can worsen. For this reason, it can be difficult to get rid of body lice without thorough cleaning and scrutiny. Insects as well as their eggs and larvae must be destroyed.
Getting Rid of Body Lice
In infestations with body lice, affected individuals must shower with hot water and soap. Clothing and bedding must be thrown out or washed in hot water, drying these items in a hot clothes dryer (more than 122 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 30 minutes) or by pressing the suspect clothing or bedding with a hot iron. Alternately, the clothing and bedding can be boiled for 5 minutes or dry cleaned.
When clothing and bedding are thoroughly washed, no further treatment may be required.
Chemical Lice Removal
In areas difficult to clean, such as mattresses, chemical powders can be used. Effective dusting products include 10 percent DDT, 1 percent malathion or 1 percent permethrin. These products should be used cautiously, and inhalation should be avoided. Direct contact with DDT should also be avoided.
Commercial Topical Preparations
Several over-the-counter and prescription products are used to eradicate body lice. After mites are destroyed, symptoms and lesions can take up to 3 weeks to resolve. Treatment can fail because of drug resistance, incompletely applied therapy, poor absorption, and re-infection. The following treatments are available:
- Elimite cream, Nix, or Rid Spray (permethrin 5 percent) may be used in children over 2 months of age.
- Ovide lotion (malathion 0.5 percent) may be used in children over 6 years of age. Ovide can cause stinging when open sores are exposed to the lotion.
- Kwell shampoo or cream (lindane 1 percent) is generally reserved for stubborn cases resistant to other treatments due to the possibility of central nervous system toxicity, especially by absorption through open sores or excessive application. Guidelines recommend that Kwell only be used in individuals weighing at least 110 pounds.
- Precipitated sulfur, 6 to 10 percent in petrolatum, applied daily for 3 consecutive days.
Older children and adults should apply permethrin to the entire body from the neck down; allow to dry and wash off after 8 to 14 hours. Repeat treatment in 7 days.
For infants and young children, permethrin should be carefully applied to the head and neck, avoiding the mouth and eyes, and then to the rest of the body, particularly body creases, fingernails, toenails, and umbilicus. Mittens can be put on infants to help prevent them from getting permethrin in the mouth or eyes.
Treatments can injure the eyes. Avoid getting lotion in the eyes or rubbing treated hands over the eyes.
Lindane can cause neurotoxicity, including dizziness and seizures, in individuals weighing less than 110 pounds.