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Head lice tend to be the focus of everyone’s attention whenever the word “lice” pops up. The thing is, lice can be found in places other than your head. The key here is that head lice aren’t the only lice out there. Body lice, a separate species of louse, can infest various areas of the body and are far more troublesome than their more docile cousins.
Here, we’ll discuss the differences between these two species, what to do should you encounter body lice, and why it’s important to know the difference between the two.
You Thought Head Lice Were Bad?
Head lice are definitely annoying, and, to be honest, they freak people out. No one likes the idea of having an infestation of bugs living in their hair and on their scalp. While they are a bother, head lice aren’t dangerous: they carry no diseases, cause no serious disorders or conditions, and basically just spend their short lives eating and making you itch.
They don’t spread all that well, either, as you pretty much have to have head-to-head contact in order to spread them or use something of someone else’s that’s been in contact with their head. They can’t even survive without a host for all that long, lasting about 24 hours off of a human host (they don’t even feed off of your pets).
Body lice, on the other hand, are a completely different matter altogether. While they do share almost all of the same genetics with head lice – having only about a 14 gene difference – they are currently considered separate species.
Both head lice and body lice can be considered territorial, or, at least, habitat specific; head lice remain on the head (and sometimes eyebrows and eyelashes) while body lice remain on the body. Whereas head lice need to feed almost continually and can’t survive very long separated from their host, body lice have evolved to be much stronger. They don’t require sustenance as often as head lice and can live for up to a week without a host.
Head lice will lay their eggs along the base of hair shafts, but body lice lay their eggs within the fibers of clothing or bedding. The most concerning difference between head and body lice is that, while head lice are relatively harmless, body lice do carry various diseases, such as typhus and trench fever.
Typhus will cause high fevers, a whole-body rash, delirium, and even coma, making it a serious and potentially fatal disease if not treated properly. Trench fever is caused, like typhus, by a bacteria carried by the body louse. The fever comes upon victims suddenly and lasts for 5 days but can exhibit multiple relapses. People with trench fever usually take around a month to recover from the disease.
Hygiene is always a hot topic of interest whenever someone mentions lice. With head lice, hygiene isn’t something that’s directly correlated with an infestation. A person can exhibit excellent hygienic habits and still get head lice. Body lice, on the other hand, are almost always linked with poor hygiene conditions. Body lice isn’t a widespread problem in the United States, with head lice being far more common an occurrence. That being said, they do exist throughout the world and can certainly become a legitimate issue and threat.
Head lice and body lice are somewhat different in how they can be eliminated. With head lice, you’re definitely going to have to use some kind of treatment product in order to kill them and their eggs, as well as help remove the sticky nits that contain the eggs from your hair. Using a nit comb, along with washing your hair with a lice treatment product, is also an effective way of eliminating head lice.
Body lice are actually easier to get rid of. Body lice, while feeding off of a person’s body, live within clothing and bed linens. In order to get rid of them, clothing and bed linens will have to either be thrown out and replaced, or washed and dried on very high heat. The home should also be cleaned thoroughly to ensure that no lice survive to infest again.
The person infested with body lice will also need to wash thoroughly, although a lice treatment shampoo won’t necessarily need to be used. People with a lot of body hair may need to seek these treatments, though, which they can find in both over the counter chemical and natural based products.