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Revista do Instituto de Medicina Tropical de São Paulo

On-line version ISSN 1678-9946

Rev. Inst. Med. trop. S. Paulo vol.60  São Paulo  2018  Epub Feb 15, 2018 


Preliminary report of body lice infesting homeless people in Brazil

Mara Lucia Gravinatti1 

Álvaro A. Faccini-Martínez2  3 

Sandro Ricardo Ruys4 

Jorge Timenetsky5 

Alexander Welker Biondo6 

1Universidade Federal do Paraná, Programa de Pós-Graduação em Ciências Veterinárias, Curitiba, Paraná, Brazil

2Universidade Federal do Espírito Santo, Centro de Ciências da Saúde, Programa de Pós-Graduação em Doenças Infecciosas, Vitória, Espírito Santo, Brazil

3Asociación Colombiana de Infectología, Comité de Medicina Tropical, Zoonosis y Medicina del Viajero, Bogotá, Colombia

4Centro Social Nossa Senhora do Bom Parto, Núcleo de Convivência São Martinho de Lima, São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil

5Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil

6Universidade Federal do Paraná, Departamento de Medicina Veterinária, Curitiba, Paraná, Brazil

Dear Editor

The Pediculus humanus humanus (body louse or Brazilian “muquirana”) has been causing infestations in vulnerable human populations with poor hygiene habits such as homeless, inmates and refugees1. P. h. humanus is the only of three lice species related to potentially lethal infectious diseases, recognized as a competent vector of Rickettsia prowazekii, Bartonella quintana and Borrelia recurrentis2. Recent data from Marseille, France (43°17'47"N 5°22'12"E) and Bogotá, Colombia (4°42'40"N 74°4'20"W) have described a decrease over time in overall body lice prevalence and have identified independent risk factors (older age, length of stay in France for migrants, frequent consumption of alcohol and tobacco smoking) for infestation among French homeless people3, alongside with 11.7% body lice prevalence in Colombian homeless4. Despite a Mediterranean climate in Marseille (14.5 ºC) and a subtropical highland climate in Bogotá (12 ºC), both cities provide similar mild average temperatures that favor body lice interaction with homeless people.

Based on these concomitant findings, we have first investigated body lice in a homeless of Curitiba (25°25'47"S, 49°16'19"W), the coldest and the eighth biggest Brazilian State capital (average temperature 16.5 ºC), with a similar subtropical highland climate in comparison with Bogotá. A homeless volunteer found in downtown square, presenting truncal pruritic and scratching lesions was examined. Lice were collected using forceps and identified as Pediculus humanus humanus (body lice) based on the recovery site (clothing). Due to this positive finding, similar survey was performed in a homeless shelter of downtown São Paulo (23°33'1"S, 46°38'2"W), the largest South American city, with humid subtropical climate and average temperatures varying from 19 °C (winter) to 25 ºC (summer).

Overall, several nits were evidenced in clothing seams with 10 (7 nymphs and 3 adults) body lice recovered in the Curitiba’s homeless and 57 (50 nymphs and 7 adults) in clothing from 2 out of 5 homeless examined in São Paulo (Figure 1).

Limited body lice records were described in Brazil, infesting clothes and bedding of three relatives living in precarious household conditions in a shantytown in São Paulo5, and a considerable infestation in a homeless person with abrasions and hyperchromic skin lesions6. Nevertheless, in this last report P.h. capitis may have been mistaken for P. h. humanus as specimens were collected in hairy body areas and not in clothes5.

Our preliminary findings confirmed the suspicious body lice circulation among homeless populations in major Brazilian cities, drawing attention to the diagnosis, control and prevention of body lice infestation in vulnerable populations of other tropical cities in Latin America, and suggesting that further investigation of potential associated diseases should be performed.


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3. Ly TD, Touré Y, Calloix C, Badiaga S, Raoult D, Tissot-Dupont H, et al. Changing demographics and prevalence of body lice among homeless persons, Marseille, France. Emerg Infect Dis. 2017;23:1894-7. [ Links ]

4. Faccini-Martínez ÁA, Márquez AC, Bravo-Estupiñan DM, Calixto OJ, López-Castillo CA, Botero-García CA, et al. Bartonella quintana and typhus group rickettsiae exposure among homeless persons, Bogotá, Colombia. Emerg Infect Dis. 2017;23:1876-9. [ Links ]

5. Linardi PM, Soares Barata JM, Urbinatti PR, Souza D, Botelho JR, De Maria M. Infestação por Pediculus humanus (Anoplura: Pediculidae) no Município de São Paulo, SP, Brasil. Rev Saude Publica. 1998;32:77-81. [ Links ]

6. Martins LG, Bernardes Filho F, Quaresma MV, Bellott TR, Botelho LN, Prata AC. Dermoscopy applied to pediculosis corporis diagnosis. An Bras Dermatol. 2014;89:513-4. [ Links ]

Received: January 4, 2018; Accepted: January 8, 2018

Correspondence to: Álvaro A. Faccini-Martínez. Universidade Federal do Espírito Santo, Centro de Ciências da Saúde, Programa de Pós-Graduação em Doenças Infecciosas, Av. Marechal Campos, 1468, CEP 29.040-090, Maruípe, Vitória, ES, Brazil. Tel: +55 27 99830-1815. E-mail:

Creative Commons License  This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License, which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.