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Body Lice

Condition Basics

What are body lice?

Body lice are tiny insects that can live in the seams of clothing or bedding. They're most common in people who can't wash their bodies or clothes regularly. Body lice are usually spread by contact with someone who has body lice or with that person's clothes, bedding, or towels.

What are the symptoms?

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.

How are they diagnosed?

A doctor will ask about your symptoms and do a physical exam. The doctor will check your body and clothes for lice and their eggs (nits). They'll also look for lice bites or sores where the seams of clothing press against the skin, such as the armpits, waist, or torso.

How are body lice treated?

Most people can get rid of body lice by washing personal items and their bodies regularly. If these steps don't work, your doctor can suggest an over-the-counter medicine to kill body lice that is safe for you. It's important to use any medicine correctly.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Wash your clothes, bedding, and towels in a washing machine with hot water. Dry them in a dryer on the hot cycle. If you don't have access to a washing machine or the items can't be washed or dried, you can store these items in a sealed plastic bag for 14 days to get rid of the lice.
  • Wash your body thoroughly. To prevent body lice from coming back, try to bathe and wash clothes and bedding at least once a week.
  • If washing doesn't work, try an over-the-counter medicine to kill body lice.
    • Be safe with medicines. Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse advice line if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
    • You can also talk to the pharmacist to understand how to use a medicine and make sure that it is safe for you.
  • Try not to scratch. Scratching can cause sores which can lead to an infection. It may help to use an over-the-counter anti-itch cream to calm the itching. If the itching is really bad, ask the doctor about an over-the-counter antihistamine. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Do not share your clothes, towels, or other items until you treat and clean everything.


Current as of: March 21, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.

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