Employee & Community Health

Bed Bugs, scabies and lice - oh my!

8/30/2016 by Dr. Walter Franz

Bed bugs, lice and scabies LOVE people, since we provide their main source of food and lodging. If you've been experiencing uncommon itching or scratching (not from mosquito or other summer insect bites), you may want to check your family, yourself and your surroundings for signs of bed bugs, lice or scabies. If you think they're the culprits, please alert your care team BEFORE you come to the clinic, so we can help you most effectively. 

Here are some helpful facts and information: 

Bed bugs 

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These are small, flat insects that feed solely on the blood of people and animals while they sleep. Bed bugs are reddish-brown in color, wingless, are about the size of Lincoln's head on a penny and can live several months without a blood meal. 

They can be found everywhere from homes to five-star hotels. They hide during the day in places such as seams of mattresses, box springs, bed frames, headboards, dresser tables, inside cracks or crevices, behind wallpaper, or any other clutter or objects around a bed. Bed bugs have been shown to be able to travel more than 100 feet in a night but tend to live within 8 feet of where people sleep. 

Bed bugs don't spread disease, but their bites can be annoying and in some cases, cause an allergic reaction. The best way to treat a bite is to avoid scratching the area, apply antiseptic creams or lotions and take an antihistamine. 

If you think you have a bed-bug infestation, contact your landlord or professional pest-control company that has experience with treating bed bugs. Here's a link to give you more information. 

Scabies

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Scabies occurs worldwide. It's caused by the human itch mite burrowing into the upper layer of the skin where it lives and lays its eggs. The most common symptoms of scabies are intense itching and a pimple-like rash. Here's a link to give you further information.  

If you suspect you have scabies, contact your care team. To get an accurate diagnosis, they probably will have you come to the clinic to have a small area inspected and tested. If you are infected, they'll typically give you a prescription for a scabicide that kills the mites and eggs. There are no over-the-counter remedies that have been tested and approved for human use. Not only the infected person, but also family members and sexual partners should be treated. 

Lice

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Lice are parasites that feed on human blood. There are three different types: head lice, body lice and pubic "crabs" lice. Since head lice is particularly an issue with school starting, there's some basic information you should know:

  • In the U.S., head lice infestation is most common among children in child care, elementary school and the household of infested children. 
  • Head lice move by crawling; they can't hop or fly. 
  • They spread by direct contact with the hair of an infested person. 
  • Although it's not common, head lice may spread through contact with clothing, such as hats, scarves, coats, or other personal items, including combs, brushes, or towels. 

Head lice have three stages: nit (egg), nymph and adult. The lice and nits are found almost exclusively on the scalp, particularly around and behind the ears and near the neckline at the back of the head. You can find more information here. If you suspect a head lice infestation, please contact your care team. Your child's school also may have a head-lice protocol that you will need to follow. 

Bed bugs, scabies and lice are unpleasant, but they're not life-threatening and don't reflect on the cleanliness of your home or belongings. Use the links above for more in-depth information, and don't hesitate to call your care team for specific questions or concerns!

Dr. Walter Franz is a consultant in Employee and Community Health's (ECH) Department of Family Medicine and has practiced in the Baldwin Building since 1982.