Head lice

Updated 26 January 2016

Symptoms of body lice

Seeing visible lice on the body is the most obvious sign of infestation. This is usually accompanied by intense itching and even a rash.

The main symptom of body lice, as with pubic lice, is severe itching. 

If lice and nits are visible on the body, you have lice although your doctor may need to confirm whether or not they are body or pubic lice (both can be found in the lower abdominal region and upper thighs)

Body lice bites cause red, pin-size marks on the affected area. It is also common for an allergic rash to develop as result of the bites.

In people who have been infested with body lice for some time, the affected area of the skin may become thickened and discoloured. This is referred to as 'vagabond's disease' and is most common around the mid-section of the body, especially the abdomen and groin.

Intense scratching can also cause broken skin, sores and scabs to develop. These can become infected if the area is not kept clean.

Because body lice can cause epidemic typhus and louse-borne relapsing fever, it is important to also watch out for symptoms of these infections which include the following:

Epidemic typhus

- Fever

Nausea and vomiting

- Coughing

- Joint pain and muscular pain

- A pink or red rash starting from the chest and spreading to other areas of the body

Louse-borne relapsing fever

- Sudden, high fever

- Body chills

- Headaches

- Joint pain and muscular aches

- Stiff neck

- Sagging on one side of the face

- Vomiting and nausea

- Weakness

- Coma

If you have been exposed to lice and experience any of the above symptoms, it is best to visit a healthcare professional as quickly as possible to determine whether or not you may have developed typhus or relapsing fever.

Read more:

What are body lice?

What are pubic lice?

What are head lice?

Sources: Merck Manuals; Centers for Disease Control and PreventionNHS Choices; US National Health Institute;Kwa-Zulu Natal Public Health Department