Bedbugs, scabies and lice - oh my!
8/30/2021 by Walter Franz, III, M.D.
Bedbugs, scabies and lice love people since people are their main source of food and lodging. If you've been experiencing uncommon itching — not from mosquito or other summer insect bites — you may want to check your family, yourself and your surroundings for signs of bedbugs, scabies or lice. If you think they're the culprits, alert your care team before you come to the clinic, so your care team can help you most effectively.
Learn more about bedbugs, scabies and lice:
These small, flat insects feed solely on the blood of people and animals while they sleep. Bedbugs are reddish-brown in color and wingless, and they are about the size of Lincoln's head on a penny. They can live several months without a blood meal.
Bedbugs 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 other clutter or objects around a bed. Bedbugs have been shown to be able to travel more than 100 feet in a night, but they tend to live within 8 feet of where people sleep.
Bedbugs don't spread disease, but their bites can be annoying. In some cases, these bites can 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 bedbug infestation, contact your landlord or professional pest control company with experience treating bedbugs. Learn more on Mayo Clinic's website.
Scabies is 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 pimplelike rash. Learn more on Mayo Clinic's website.
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. No over-the-counter remedies have been tested and approved for human use. The infected person, as well as family members and sexual partners, should be treated.
Lice are parasites that feed on human blood. The three types of lice are head lice, body lice and pubic (crabs) lice.
Since head lice is particularly an issue with school starting, here's what 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 not common, head lice can 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 on Mayo Clinic's website. If you suspect a head lice infestation, contact your care team. Your child's school also may have a head lice protocol that you will need to follow.
They are not life-threatening
Bedbugs, scabies and lice are unpleasant, but they're not life-threatening and don't reflect on the cleanliness of your home or your belongings. Use the links above or visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for more in-depth information. Don't hesitate to call your care team for specific questions or concerns.
Walter Franz, III, M.D., is a physician in Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson's Department of Family Medicine. He has practiced in the Baldwin Building since 1982.