General Information on Body Lice
Body lice are contagious. Contact with an infested person's clothing or bedding is the most common way that transmission occurs. They can also be spread through direct skin-to-skin contact with an already infested person.
(Click Transmission of Body Lice for more information.)
Unlike head lice, which do not transmit disease, body lice can, in some cases, spread other diseases. Epidemics of typhus and louse-borne relapsing fever have been caused by body lice.
Though typhus is no longer widespread, epidemics still occur in the following cases:
- During times of war
- During civil unrest
- During natural disasters
- In refugee camps
- In prisons where people live crowded together in unsanitary conditions.
Typhus still exists in places where climate, chronic poverty, and social customs prevent regular changes and laundering of clothing.
There are three forms of body lice:
- The egg (also called a nit)
- The nymph
- The adult.
(Click What Do Lice Look Like? to see the actual size of the three forms of lice compared to a penny.)
Nits are the eggs of body lice. They are quite small (about the size of a knot in thread) and can be hard to see. They are generally easy to see in the seams of clothing, particularly around the waistline and under armpits. They may also be firmly attached to the hair shaft. They are oval in shape and are usually yellow to white in color.