The body louse as a vector of reemerging human diseases

Clin Infect Dis. 1999 Oct;29(4):888-911. doi: 10.1086/520454.


The body louse, Pediculus humanus humanus, is a strict human parasite, living and multiplying in clothing. Louse infestation is associated with cold weather and a lack of hygiene. Three pathogenic bacteria are transmitted by the body louse. Borrelia recurrentis is a spirochete, the agent of relapsing fever, recently cultured on axenic medium. Historically, massive outbreaks have occurred in Eurasia and Africa, but currently the disease is found only in Ethiopia and neighboring countries. Bartonella quintana is now recognized as an agent of bacillary angiomatosis bacteremia, trench fever, endocarditis, and chronic lymphadenopathy among the homeless. Rickettsia prowazekii is the agent of epidemic typhus. The most recent outbreak (and the largest since World War II) was observed in Burundi. A small outbreak was also reported in Russia in 1997. Louse infestation appears to become more prevalent worldwide, associated with a decline in social and hygienic conditions provoked by civil unrest and economic instability.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Insect Vectors*
  • Insecticides / pharmacology
  • Phthiraptera / classification
  • Phthiraptera / microbiology*
  • Phthiraptera / physiology
  • Phylogeny
  • Relapsing Fever / diagnosis
  • Relapsing Fever / drug therapy
  • Relapsing Fever / transmission*
  • Trench Fever / diagnosis
  • Trench Fever / drug therapy
  • Trench Fever / transmission*
  • Typhus, Epidemic Louse-Borne / diagnosis
  • Typhus, Epidemic Louse-Borne / drug therapy
  • Typhus, Epidemic Louse-Borne / transmission*


  • Insecticides