There are three types of lice that can infest the human body; head lice, body lice and pubic lice. Body lice can be the most difficult to control because they can remain alive for almost one week after dropping off a person. Body lice have been a blood parasite on man for many centuries and there is a long history of their survival. Since this is a public health pest, treatment and control will require the action of a medical professional in most cases.
This whitish insect is very small, less than .25 of an inch but it can be readily seen with the naked eye. Adults and immatures occur together on the body of a person as well as on outer and inner clothing. Most of the lice population is spread along the torso and not concentrated on the head or pubic region although they can be found in both of these locations. Body lice move slowly on a person and are relatively easy to collect.
The eggs or nits are small, round and white and can be seen in the seams of clothing. After one or two weeks the eggs hatch into nymphs or young lice. The nymphs must feed on blood to mature into larger adult lice and this takes around ten days. Once an adult, lice continue to feed on blood.
Body lice bite and suck the blood of humans. Their saliva contains compounds which thin the blood and create an itch afterwards. Body lice rest and lay their eggs on clothing and move to human skin when feeding. Body lice can occur on a person in large numbers and many lice can drop off during normal activity. When people are in close physical contact, lice are more easily spread from person to person. Dogs, cats and other pets and animals are not a host for human body lice.
Body lice can transmit disease including epidemic typhus, trench fever and louse-borne relapsing fever. In the United States, most lice infestations are found on people living in transient housing and in over-crowded locations with poor sanitation. They often do not have access to a clean change of clothes.
Improved personal hygiene including hot showers and baths will reduce body lice quickly. A regular change of clothes is essential to prevent re-infestation. Contaminated clothing can be washed and then dried under the hotest temperature of a dryer before re-use. A careful examination and confirmation of the type of louse should be part of the control strategy.
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