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BOD-ities: Getting to know ‘body bugs’

Riddle Hospital November 30, 2018 BOD-ities By Maureen E. Buckley, MD

If you’ve known someone who has dealt with bed bugs or your son or daughter has ever been sent home from school with a scratchy scalp, you’re probably familiar with the creepy-crawly feeling that comes over you. Like most people, you probably instinctively reached to scratch your head or took a closer look at your mattress that night.

If you haven’t faced these situations before, consider yourself lucky—“body bugs” like bed bugs and lice are common and can affect anyone, regardless of your personal or environmental hygiene.
As we prepare for chilly weather and a season spent indoors and in close proximity to family, friends and classmates, let’s take a look at some of the most common types of insects that might call your body home—and how they get there.

Head lice

Just about everybody is familiar or has had a personal experience with head lice. These tiny insects live and feed on the human scalp and, unfortunately, are easily transferable. Head lice are transferred from person to person by sharing clothing, outerwear, bedding, towels and hair accessories.

This is why head lice are so common among children and adolescents; schools, camps, after-school activities and day care programs are full of kids sharing toys, clothes and more. The best way to prevent lice is to refrain from sharing clothes of personal objects like these, particularly those that you wear on your head or use for grooming.

Even though a head lice infestation is an inconvenience, it is easily treatable. Over-the-counter lice treatment kits are effective and should rid you or your child’s scalp of lice within a few days.

Bed bugs

Bed bugs have a big “ick” factor—likely because these little insects are sharing a bed with you…and you may not realize it. Because they’re so small (only about the width of a credit card!) bed bugs are difficult to detect, so you may not notice when they hitchhike on your luggage, furniture or clothes.

Because bed bugs can travel so easily from place to place, it’s important to thoroughly inspect items like bedding, couches and furniture before you bring them home. It’s especially important if these items have had a previous owner or if they’re being shuttled between college dorms, camps or Laundromats. You can take extra precaution by covering your mattress and box springs in a protective cover, too.

Of course, even if you take all these precautions, bed bugs can still happen. Keep an eye out for the telltale signs of bed bugs, like a skin rash, hives, itching or swelling. In some instances, bed bugs may not result in any symptoms, so make sure you do a thorough check of your bedding at least once a month.


Ticks aren’t just a problem in the summertime. Certain types of ticks—the moose winter and black-legged tick, specifically—are active in the summertime and can still latch onto people or pets. Because you’re bundled up in cold weather, ticks are less likely to attach to your skin, but you should still do a thorough check of long pants and outerwear when you come in from the outdoors.

“Body bugs” like these can happen to anyone, so don’t feel bad if you find yourself dealing with an infestation in your home. In addition to the steps listed above, try these tactics to protect yourself and your family:

  • Use insect repellent when you’re going to be outside
  • Clean up clutter in your home
  • Wash and heat-dry bedding, blankets, and any other clothing that touches the floor
  • Keep coats and outerwear in a designated closet
  • Conduct a thorough cleaning of your home at least once a month

If you're experiencing symptoms like itching, swelling, redness or irritation, don't hesitate to call your doctor. He or she can answer all of your "weird" questions about topics like these and more. To find a Main Line Health physician that's right for you, visit myprimary.org.

Main Line Health serves patients at hospitals and health centers throughout the western suburbs of Philadelphia. To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.