Skin Parasites

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.

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.



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:

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Apr 27, 2010 @ 12:00 am
i have a friend in the hospital right now on life support and no dr. can explain whats happening to her. About 3 months ago her Dr. found a worm parasite behind her right ear right under her hair line. The Dr. had scheduled a surgery about 1 month from the time that he found the worm. He done more tests on her . In March he called her on the phone and told her the worm had dissappeared and that he couldnt explain it except a miracle from God. He released her and done nothing else to her.1 wek ago she was fine one day and then got terribly sick with flu symptoms and 2 days later she was in the hospital with a very high fever and now is on life support and is not responding to any one or anything. Today her fever is back up and she is the same as the day she was admitted.They are changing her antibiotics. is this possibly connected to the mysterious worm that dissappeared? I am desperate for help , Please if any one can give me any information on this thing I would be hysterically Grateful. I feel so hopeless. please help me.
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Aug 31, 2011 @ 3:15 pm
For the past several years I have experienced a sore scalp, itching, small blister like bumps, mostly around the hair follicle and flaking skin...along with hair loss. I have been tested for everything and the doctors have come up with nothing. Stating I am incredibly healthy. However, about 5 years ago, my hair was rather thick and now it has become incredibly thin. The thinning has coincided with the scalp irritations. Also, out of the blue it will feel as though I am being bitten on say my arms or legs. I look closely at the area, and see nothing.
I am a healthy, 35 year old, active female. I eat primarily organic and take all sorts of natural supplements. My daughter who is 6 recently has come down with a serious case of head lice in her dark, long, brown hair. I have done multiple treatments on both she and I (we live alone), washed the bedding over and over, sprayed, had the furniture shampooed, and they keep reoccurring. My house is spotless and clean. I just don't understand what I'm not doing? Some of the lice I have found are light brown/grayish, others dark brown.
I have done a lot of internet research on lice, but for some reason, I'm wondering if the irritation and hair loss that I have experienced all over my body, could be caused by lice or a form of it.
I am sick of itching, a having bumps on my neck and scalp. My daughter has been such a trooper but she's sick of the treatments/combs/chemicals too. Can anyone offer any sort of advice or lend me the name of a physician who can test for a parasite that I can't seem to see?

Thank you for Anything you can offer!
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Sep 6, 2012 @ 11:11 am
Not being neurotic, but had lump in fold/bend of right index finger for about a year, not sure if a wart - seeing another dr tomorrow. Probably is a wart as the other dr wanted to cauterise it. I have been using remedies to soften it and am now using salicylic acid and duct tape, but it is an unusual wart in that it is flat with layers of hard skin and when I get through those layers, these little black specks pop out, look like little black insects, but I can't see if they are with the naked eye. Not sure if it's the wart virus under the skin gradually dying and coming out, but it has been a very slow and painful experience. I got sepsis in it, was on antibiotics three times. The finger was swollen, the antibiotics took sepsis away, but it must still be cleaned out to the root. I hope it goes away, not sure what to do going forward. I am not on medical insurance, can't afford to see private dermatologist and the state health route is slow, so it's "suffer-suffer"
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Jul 15, 2014 @ 11:23 pm
I have a bumpy disorder all over my entire skin on my body at times I get these huge bumps that itchlike crazy & then look like a mosquito bite then i get these big red bumps that look like a pimple
But itches & when the white stuff is popped out
Shortly later it turns brown or black
I went to the doctor she said I have scabies & wringworm I have treated the both
3 times with permethrin and other creams & didn't work so another
Doctor said it was a fun gas infection all over my skin
So she gave me lamisil pills and a cream
Nothing is working what in the world do I have? Help me its driving me crazy

But it didn't work
Then I went to a different doctor she said I had a fun gas all over my skin & she gave me lamisil pills
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Aug 29, 2014 @ 9:09 am
I came down with a terrible bacterial infection from dirty gloves of a nurse it burned me skin on my area around my female hurt really bad!!!the medicine from the doctor only slowed it went into my bladder 9ifelt it moving went up a hole inside of my right side.they sent me home several times the last time I was glad because they were not helping me!i laid trying to of what to do.then remembred that we use bacterial lotion on our hands so I soaked a Kleenex and soaked it with it and put it all over the large area then I put the hospital foaming body cleaner over that.i woke up with just a few small areas I did the same thing.i,t worked.i had to do a separate time for the hole up my side it went in and cleared it up.but I knew I had no way to kill them inside of me.i new tey were killing me.i called the nurse at my doctors office and told her I would not last to go to my appointment.the doctor that was filling in because my doctor had retired.called me in a prescription.for bacteril infection I took 500mg twice a day it cured me.i husband took cre of me during that time and he got it and was very sick.because also went into his lungs like I had.he had to stay in the hospital they said for newmonia.they also found cancer.but the lungs had a bacteria infection he oldest daughter took care of him for the 3 weeks.she caught it but she was put on some new medicine to keep her from not getting cancer again.she lived.but her boyfriend that moved in had a bad respertory infection for weeks he could not breath so he was put into the hospital for his lungs and the water that formed around them.they also fond cancer.each one had a different cancer.but all had the bacteria in there lungs.then I have it again for helping her boy friend.but the doctors are new and refuse to treat me.these little things arein my skin every ware.i feel helpless because I now theres a cure but they have covered theproblem so well I can,t find the medicine I took.i,ve never sued the nurse or hospital I know we need our hospitals.there is another one having problems with her lungs and I can,t help her.
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Feb 20, 2015 @ 7:19 pm
I get a terrible itch all over my scalp and it starts out as a mosquito bite or pimple..Once scratched it scabs over.Removing the scab one day and threw it in the toilet i seen something moving fast at first in circles and after 5 mins it stopped moving.So after this i wanted to see if there was more.There was.Every scab put in water moves in circles.when i itch i scrape any remains in the toilet and also see movements.I have nickel size circular red raw areas all over my scalp neck and moves down my back.what is this "movement" it is freaking me out!I can definitely see rapid movement at first than it slows and stops after 5 mins.What could this be???
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Feb 21, 2015 @ 12:12 pm
I have same issue and i may have the key keep finger crossed i in day 3 of my own treatment and my skin is clearing up all the doctor could not fix but i not ready to let this take over my life because their are 4 people that my life belongs to my children and they need me I will cure my self and there is no there option as soon as i know for sure i will be back to this blog pray but i almost sure this is working

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