Topic Overview

What are body lice?

Body lice are tiny insects that can make a temporary home in the seams of your clothing or bedding (sheets, pillows, and blankets). They're most often spread by contact with a person who has body lice or with that person's clothes, bedding, or towels.

Body lice are usually found only among people who can't wash their bodies or their clothes regularly.

What are the signs of body lice?

Body lice can cause very bad itching, especially at night. They can also cause sores in the armpits, waist, or torso. These are places where the seams of clothing can press against your skin.

It's hard to see body lice on your body. It's much easier to see lice or their eggs (called nits) on clothes.

How are they treated?

In most cases, you don't need medicine to kill body lice.

Most people can get rid of body lice by washing personal items and their bodies at least once a week. Clothes, bedding, and towels should be machine-washed in hot water and dried on the hot cycle. Items that can't be washed should be sealed in a plastic bag for at least 10 days.

If these hygiene steps don't work, you can use an over-the-counter or prescription medicine to kill body lice. It's important to use any medicine correctly and to choose a medicine that is safe for you.

You can also talk to the pharmacist to understand how to use a medicine and make sure that it is safe for you.

In rare cases, body lice carry disease. This usually only happens when people are living closely together in places that don't have good sanitation, such as refugee camps.

When should you call a doctor?

Call your doctor now if:

  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the area.
    • Pus draining from the area.
    • A fever.

Call your doctor if:

  • You are not getting better as expected.
  • Your symptoms get worse.

References

Other Works Consulted

  • Knowles S, Shear NH (2015). Scabies and lice. Compendium of Therapeutic Choices. Ottawa: Canadian Pharmacists Association. https://www.e-therapeutics.ca. Accessed December 2, 2015.

Credits

Adaptation Date: 6/6/2017

Adapted By: HealthLink BC

Adaptation Reviewed By: HealthLink BC

Adaptation Date: 6/6/2017

Adapted By: HealthLink BC

Adaptation Reviewed By: HealthLink BC