Skin Parasites

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Skin parasites (PAIR-uh-sites) are tiny organisms that invade the skin, often causing irritation and itching.


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Pediculus humanus capitis

Phthirus pubis

Pubic lice

Sarcoptes scabiel


What Are Skin Parasites?

Parasites live off other living things (including people), often living, feeding, and reproducing on them. Some parasites thrive on human blood and cannot live long without it. 'When these parasites latch onto someone's skin, they may lay their eggs there. Before long, that person could become the host (an organism that provides another organism, such as a parasite or virus, with a place to live and grow) for hundreds or more of the parasites.

This image shows a magnification of one of the eggs laid by head lice. These eggs, called "nits," are visible to the naked eye. The term "nit-pick," which means to be concerned with insignificant details, derives from the process of taking the tiny eggs out of the hair by hand, a method used for centuries before more effective treatment was widely available. Custom Medical Stock Photo, Inc.
This image shows a magnification of one of the eggs laid by head lice. These eggs, called "nits," are visible to the naked eye. The term "nit-pick," which means to be concerned with insignificant details, derives from the process of taking the tiny eggs out of the hair by hand, a method used for centuries before more effective treatment was widely available.
Custom Medical Stock Photo, Inc.

Skin parasites are found worldwide and infest large numbers of people. For example, as many as 6 to 12 million people worldwide contract head lice every year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Head lice most often affect children in school and daycare settings.

What Are Some Common Skin Parasites?

There are many parasites that infest human skin, but lice, scabies (SKAY-beez), and chiggers are among the most common.

Head lice

Also known as Pediculus humanus capitis (peh-DIH-kyoolus HYOO-mah-nus KAH-pih-tis), head lice are six-legged parasites with tiny claws that cling to hairs. They are found on the scalp, neck, and behind the ears. Lice lay visible, whitish eggs called nits. In about 7 days, the nits hatch into young called nymphs (NIMFS). Nymphs grow up fast, and in just 1 week they mature into adult lice that must feed on blood to stay alive. Head lice may not cause any symptoms immediately, but as with other insect bites the body reacts to the invaders, leading to itching and sores from scratching.

Pubic lice

Pubic lice, or Phthirus pubis (THEER-us PYOO-bus), invade the pubic hair and sometimes other body hair such as beards, eyebrows, eyelashes, and armpit hair. They often are called "crabs" because of their crab-like appearance. Pubic lice cause intense itching, especially at night, when they feed by burying their heads into hair follicles * . The nits or adult lice can be seen on pubic hairs or surrounding skin.


Microscopic Sarcoptes scabiei (sar-KOP-teez SKAY-be-eye) mites cause an infestation called scabies. The mites work their way under the top layer of skin and lay their eggs. Most people are not even aware of the intruders until intense itching begins 2 to 6 weeks later. Red, pimple-like bumps appear on the skin, and there may be wavy lines on the skin tracing the mites' paths, especially in the webbing between the fingers and in the skin folds at the back of the knees and the inside of the elbows.

* hair follicles (FAH-lih-kulz) are the skin structures from hair develops and grows.

* hives are swollen, itchy patches on the skin.


Chiggers are mites that tend to live in weeds, tall grass, or wooded areas. The chigger larvae (LAR-vee, immature mites) feed on a variety of animals, including humans. The larvae crawl onto the skin of passersby and can use their tiny claws to grab onto human hair. They then attach to the skin, usually at the ankles or waist or in skin folds, with hooked mouthparts and feed on skin cells. Unlike lice and scabies, chiggers only feed on their host for a couple of days, then let go and fall off. Chigger bites can cause a red bump that continues to grow in size, a skin rash, hives * , and severe itchiness. Sometimes the larvae are visible in the center of the bump.

How Are Skin Parasites Spread?

Despite what many believe, people do not get skin parasites because of poor hygiene. Instead, skin parasites tend to spread in situations where they can walk or fall from one person to another (or in the case of chiggers, from vegetation to human skin). The parasites often require relatively prolonged and close contact to move between people, and they spread most easily in crowded conditions, from sharing personal items, and from skin-to-skin contact.

Head lice in particular fall easily onto their next victims in close quarters. They also can infest hairbrushes, barrettes, hats, and sometimes clothes or bed linens. If other people use these items, they can become infested as well. Pubic lice spread mostly through sexual contact, but people also can get them from bed linens and clothes.

Scabies spreads quickly in crowded living conditions or in places with lots of skin-to-skin contact (such as daycare centers and nursing homes). Like lice, scabies can be passed through sexual contact and by sharing clothes, towels, and bed linens.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Doctors often diagnose skin parasite infestations just by spotting the parasites, their eggs, larvae, or characteristic red bumps on the skin. With scabies, a skin scraping might be taken to check for mites, eggs, and mite feces (FEE-seez, or bowel movements). However, this test is not always accurate because the mites may have moved from the spot that was scraped.

Over-the-counter and prescription lotions and shampoos (known as pediculicides, peh-DIH-kyoo-lih-sides) can be used to kill head lice. In some cases, treatment may need to be repeated or replaced with stronger medications because lice are becoming resistant to some treatments. Other people living in the same house with the infested person may be treated at the same time.

Pubic lice also are treated with a pediculicide, similar to the treatment of head lice. If the infestation includes the eyelashes, petroleum jelly is applied several times a day to the eyelids for a week or more.

Patients with scabies are given medicated lotions to apply over the entire body, and the lotion must stay on for 8 to 12 hours. Chigger bites do not require any special treatment to heal, but antihistamines * may ease itching.

Infestation with lice and scabies can persist until they are treated properly. Once treatment begins, patients usually are no longer contagious after a day or two, but sores and itching may not disappear for a couple of weeks. Chigger bites heal quickly.

* antihistamines (an-tie-HIS-tuh-meens) are drugs used to combat allergic reactions and relieve itching.

* impetigo (im-pih-TEE-go) is a bacterial skin infection that usually occurs around the nose and mouth and causes itching and fluid-filled blisters that often burst and form yellowish crusts.

Can Skin Parasites Cause Medical

Complications of skin parasites are rare. Frequent or rough scratching of bites or sores can lead to bacterial infections, such as impetigo * . If lice spread to eyebrows or eyelashes, the eyelids may become infected. Norwegian or crusted scabies is a form of scabies that can be severe in people with weak immune systems, such as those with a chronic * illness and elderly people.

How Can People Prevent Infestation with
Skin Parasites?

To avoid skin parasites, experts recommend that people:

  • shower daily, wash hands frequently, and wear clean clothes
  • avoid anyone who has lice or scabies until that person is treated
  • never share brushes, hats, bed linens, or clothes
  • practice abstinence (not having sex); birth control does not prevent pubic lice or scabies
  • avoid chigger-infested areas and wear socks, long pants, and long sleeves in wooded or grassy areas

To prevent the spread of parasites in a home when a family member has been diagnosed with an infestation, it is wise to:

  • wash bed linens, towels, and clothes in hot water, then dry them on high heat
  • vacuum the entire house, then throw the vacuum cleaner bag away
  • disinfect combs and hair items
  • seal items that cannot be cleaned in airtight plastic bags for 2 weeks; at the end of that time, any parasites on those items will have died

In addition, children who have skin parasites should stay home from school or daycare until a day or two after they begin their treatment.

* chronic (KRAH-nik) means continuing for a long period of time.

See also
Skin and Soft Tissue Infections



U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1600 Clifton Road, Atlanta, GA 30333. The CDC is the U.S. government authority for information about infectious and other diseases. It posts fact sheets about various parasitic infestations and diseases at its website.
Telephone 800-311-3435

Website . KidsHealth is a website created by the medical experts of the Nemours Foundation and is devoted to issues of children's health. It contains articles on a variety of health topics, including lice, scabies, and chiggers.

User Contributions:

Audrey Rey
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Apr 28, 2017 @ 6:06 am
I believe I have had scabies for many years. I feel myself getting weaker and weaker. Because I have a Bug Phobia all my life, No one believes me. I suffer every spring, when this parasite inside of me wakes up with vengeance. I have been to 4 Dermatologist's in the past year. These Doctors see that I have a depression and they think I am crazy. My boyfriend thinks we have bedbugs. I keep trying to tell him that the bugs are hatching on me. He tells me to stop talking like that or he will put me in the crazy house. I am so desperate. Can you please help me? Sometimes I am unable to get to my e-mail, if you can call me instead, my phone number is 718-448-1789. Sincerely, Audrey Rey from Staten Island, New York. Thank-you for letting me speak my mind.
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Oct 11, 2017 @ 1:01 am
I have a worm or parasite in pubic hair there is a lump that they live in hard bump squished it nothing came out.ithink this started20 years ago. above worm is hard first crust!
Cheli Moore
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Nov 6, 2017 @ 6:06 am
Davina, Me too! Since mid-July. For me the glitter is rare, and I haven't shared that part with anyone, except my 9-year-old son who is suffering from the same thing as me. In addition to the black sandlike ones, I have black sliver like ones, and tiny curly black hairs. White things stuck to hairs are probably dermadex mites egg sacks. But the infectious disease doctor says dermadex don't bite. If you get either a cure, or a proper diagnosis, please contact me. If you send your email to mine, I'll do the same. Currently, I am trying 5 doses of Ivermectin over 15 days. Bites are back today and only one dose left on the 15th.
Anyone else with helpful ideas?
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Nov 6, 2017 @ 12:12 pm
I am having trouble finding any information on what this could be. Some of them are like sand and other one's look like dead skin. What the heck is this? In the morning they are on my sheets. But I can feel them pinch.
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Nov 7, 2017 @ 5:17 pm

I am so glad I found you guys! I have the same thing - black 'bugs', some are sliver-like, white things stuck on my skin and they REALLY bite.
I just started my Ivermectin today. My doctor thought it was body lice. Is that what your doc thought? Please any info would help.

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Nov 20, 2017 @ 2:14 pm
I started getting attacked every night by something that was invisible and thought I had scabies but couldn't find proof, so I went and bought a microscope that attaches to my cell phone and found some really disturbing things. I got some lint rollers and when I felt an itch, I would roll it and see what it was. These things look like black threads that wrap themselves around small weird looking things with antennae. There are also red, blue and green of the same things. My doctor has ordered some tests for me and one came back negative for parasites. Seriously? He did give me a prescription for anti-fungal shampoo because they were biting my head and I have dermatitis. It's called Ketoconazole which you can get over the counter at half strength. I showed my doctor photos of the lint roller tapes on my phone so he knows there is something. When I use the Ketoconazole, scrub my whole body with a mix of half salt and half baby shampoo, then put Johnson's bedtime lavender baby lotion all over, I can sleep through the night. I hope it continues because they seem to become immune to things. My doctor mentioned something about toxins so I am trying to detox by not consuming any other chemicals. We had black mold in the walls in our apartment, so that may have triggered it.
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Mar 2, 2018 @ 1:13 pm
I have these things all over my skin. Mostly on my back of neck back bicept area thys. Chest and face. They look like they have a sharp end to them and it almost looks like you can see a mouth and a stomach when u put lite you can kinda see threw it. Please help anyone 6208603430.
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Mar 30, 2018 @ 5:17 pm
I would look in the direction of morgelleons. It is commonly referred to by western doctors as delusional parasitis (self inflicted) I have been dealing with this for a long time myself. I have been reseArching all different types of possibilities. Morgelleons, a type of parasite, or a fungus are the 3 top reasons I can come up with. Bath in baking soda, 1/2-1 cup and the same amount of epsom sAlt. I use a lot of theraputic grade essential oils, and a lot of natural herbs and such to help with the condition. I also suggest seeing a homeopathic doctor of some sort, and PROBIOTICS! A good one. With as man strains of good bacteria as possible. I changed my diet, I have cut out sugar (which feeds the yeast in the digestive tract) and also dairy and processed foods and I take milk thistle, activated charcoal to help rid my body of it. You must learn about the biofilm because you have to penetrate that in order to kick out the different bacteria that lives inside of there. Grapefruit seed extract and serrapeptaise I have heard work well for that. I hope y’all find some type of relief, I totally understand the struggle. *also, when something starts working to rid your body you will temporarily feel more activity as when it feels threatened it seems to try to multiply as much as possible. It will get better in a couple days.
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May 20, 2018 @ 11:23 pm
Terry you and I share the same parasite. I developed symptoms two years ago in the hospital. I had a horrendous itchy back. It's taken less than a year for them to take over my body. I've got brown spots that change shape, "meth arms & teeth". These things literally come out of my gums when I floss and my lips when I squeeze them. My eyes are infected too. I'm losing my eyesight too. My mom is losing her battle with lung & brain cancer. Stress is a big factor as well. I'll keep you posted. Best of health to you all...
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May 30, 2018 @ 7:19 pm
Week 4 of insane itchy widely distanced "tiny raised bumps" all started with what I thought was a tick bite. When scratched, the tiny bump turns into a large hot red patch. I checked with my doctor 4 times since. At every visit, their office could not identify the bumps and said I was not contagious then sent me home with antihistamine. My husband has now contracted the same. A feverish feeling without a fever that lasted a day for each of us before the spread started on the torso, inner arms, hips and neck. Husband was pretty upset for the lack of diagnosis so he called our doctor and guess what? Doctor has also contracted it, whatever IT is. The doctor can't even diagnose it himself! If he can't make a proper diagnosis, who can? We thought it might be chiggers, skin lice, bed bugs, etc. but after a thorough search and lint roll tests FOUND NOTHING. We have reviewed any changes to medications, detergents, shampoos, etc. Nothing. I even changed out my entire wardrobe to cotton, just in case. Still nothing has resolved this. My joints have been more painful than usual but this can't be Lyme Disease unless Lyme disease has mutated and is able to hop from human to human rather than from Tick to human. Any suggestions?
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Jun 12, 2018 @ 8:20 pm
I'm at the end of my rope. Somebody please help me! Ive had these for two and a half years. I lost a gf, car, apartment, everything. I tried suicide by injecting 10 syringes of isopropyl alcohol and pills and drank bleach. The cops came to get me with guns drawn and I freaked out and cut myself with a steak knife on the neck, wrists. They charged me for a violent property crime, slammed me to the ground, mashed my face into the floor. Told the other cops to be careful because "we d don't know what this fuckers got. Was on probation too so I got 2.75 years in prison. Got out tried to run my car into a tree and miraculously lived. Did another two years. My family thinks I'm on drugs because of it. Everybody I go around gets super itchy. And ots embarrassing to me. I'm avoided like the plague. Homeless and now living in a temporary living place. I'm broke I feel diseased snd like I wanna die. Whenever I smother these things with alcohol, vaseline, dish soap they get angry it seems and I itch more. Lil black specs come out of my skin like magic and sometimes the fiber things. Sometimes they move. I took samples but don't know who to turn to and don't have the money for testing. He'll I think death would be better every-day. Would someone please tell me what I have to live for?, I'm on meds and they help but my life is torment. PLEASE FIND IT IN YOUR HEARTS TO MAKE THIS GO AWAY OR AT LEAST GEY BETTER! 262-899-9708 THANK U!

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