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?

Most people can get rid of body lice by washing personal items and their bodies regularly. Clothes, bedding, and towels should be machine-washed in hot water [at least 130°F (54.4°C)] and dried on the hot cycle.

Try to bathe daily until there are no signs of lice on your body, clothes, or bedding. To prevent body lice from coming back, try to bathe and wash clothes and bedding at least once a week.

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


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer John Pope, MD - Pediatrics

Current as ofNovember 22, 2017

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Body Lice