Body lice (Pediculus humanus) are closely related to head lice, but are less frequently
encountered in the US. As the name implies, body lice generally feed on the body, but
may rarely be discovered on the scalp and facial hair. They usually remain on clothing
near the skin, and generally deposit their eggs on or near the seams of garments. Body lice
are acquired mainly through direct contact with an infested person or their clothing and
bedding, and are most commonly found on individuals who infrequently change or wash
their clothes. A change to clean clothes, and laundering of infested garments (especially
drying with high heat or ironing), are generally effective to eliminate this burden.
Body lice (but not head lice or pubic lice) serve as vectors of certain human pathogens.
Epidemics of louse-borne typhus, louse-borne relapsing fever and trench fever decimated
the populace through the ages, and millions more perished from these infections during the
1900ís during major conflicts and famines. Fear of these diseases fueled atrocious and
perverse campaigns to quarantine and assault unpopular ethnic groups suspected of
promoting risk. Current efforts to seek out and quarantine individuals infested with head
lice may be driven, in part, by those who misinterpret or intentionally misapply certain
principals of public health.