Difference Between Scabies & Body Lice

By Ocean Malandra

Both scabies and body lice are common parasites that can infect a human host. However, there are crucial differences between the two and it is relatively easy to tell them apart. Body lice, Pediculus humanus corporis, is a louse and is the same species that infects the human head as head lice, except this time it lives on the clothing of the individual. Scabies, Sarcoptes scabiei, is a mite that lives on or in the human skin. Both scabies and body lice live off human blood and both can cause intense itching.

Both scabies and body lice are common parasites that can infect a human host. However, there are crucial differences between the two and it is relativley easy to tell them apart. Body lice, Pediculus humanus corporis, is a louse and is the same species that infects the human head as head lice, except this time it lives on the clothing of the individual. Scabies, Sarcoptes scabiei, is a mite that lives on or in the human skin. Both scabies and body lice live off human blood and both can cause intense itching.

How to tell body lice from scabies

The easiest way to tell whether its scabies or body lice is to take a look at your body and your clothing. Scabies are microscopic and cant be seen with the human eye although they leave a burrough like mark on the human skin. Body lice, just like head lice, are visible to the human eye and look like small crabs, and leave nits or eggs on clothing. Check the clothes you are wearing especially near the seams for louse eggs if you suspect you have an infestation. Remember that body lice don't actually live on the body, they live in clothing and feed on the body. Scabies on the other hand live on and inside the top layer of human skin and leave telltale S shaped bouroughs on the skin surface, especially in folded areas of the skin like the areas between fingers. The itching and the rash caused by scabies is also much more intense than those caused by body lice as the scabies lay their eggs under the skin, setting off an allegic reaction.

How to treat body lice

Since body lice generally live in clothing or bedding, simply washing your clothes and all bedding material is usually all that is needed to eradicate the body louse. Body lice infestations are usually only common in cases of poor hygiene, such as homelessness, where there is no acces to basic washing facilities. In extreme cases of body lice medication such as permethrin can be used, however most cases of body lice are exterminated in the washing machine and shower. If the body lice have infected your hair; the condition called head lice, your will need to use a medicated shampoo as the temperature required to kill them is too hot for your scalp.

How to treat scabies

Scabies infestations require medical help. The scabies mite is extremely hardy and although there are reports of scabies being treated by natural methods, including tea tree oil and neem, most doctors recommend using an insecticide. The standard treatment for the scabies mite is a permethrin cream that is applied from the top of the head to the bottom of the feet and left on overnight and may be repeated a few days afterwards. Permethrin is a synthetic pesticide that can cause side effects in some people which is why a doctors prescription is usually needed. Another treatment for scabies is an oral dose of ivermectin, followed by another dose two or three weeks later. Ivermectin is an effective pesticide that was and is used to rid horses of mites. An antihistamine may be prescribed as well to help with the viscous itch that may not immediately go away.

History

Parasites that live on the human body are as old as humanity itself. Both the body louse and the scabies mite are evolved to feed exclusively on human blood and need a live human host to survive. It is theorized that scabies recently moved from animals to humans due to close contact through domestication, but lice have been with us from paleolithic times and archaelogists study their DNA to determine some of the evolutionary developments of humans.

Warning

Scabies and body lice are extremly contagious and can be passed through body contact, shared clothing or bedding or even overcrowded conditions. Body lice is usually not a problem in hygienic situations but the hardy little scabies mite can spread like wildfire in certain environments and scabies "outbreaks" have to to be controlled as soon as possible, sometimes by treating the entire household, in order to contain the little mites.

References

About the Author

Based in San Francisco, Ocean Malandra is a travel writer, author and documentary filmmaker. He runs a major San Francisco travel website, is widely published in both online and print publications and has contributed to several travel guidebooks to South America.

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