Report of the human body louse (Pediculus humanus) from clothes sold in a market in central Italy

Claudio De Liberato, Adele Magliano, Federico Romiti, Michela Menegon, Fabiola Mancini, Alessandra Ciervo, Marco Di Luca, Luciano Toma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Pediculus humanus, the human body louse, is widespread where overcrowding and lack of hygiene are present, in areas of the world affected by poverty, war, famine and presence of refugees. It has recently been considered re-emerging among homeless populations in developed countries. In Italy, it was last reported in 1945. Pediculus humanus is a vector of highly relevant human pathogens. Methods: In October 2018, a woman found small insects on a T-shirt bought second-hand in a local street market in a village 35 km south of Rome (central Italy). Insects were identified both morphologically and by molecular analysis. Moreover, they were analyzed molecularly for the presence of Rickettsia prowazekii, Borrelia recurrentis, Bartonella quintana, Coxiella burnetii and Yersinia pestis. Results: Morphological and molecular analyses of the insects identified them as 26 lice (12 females, 10 males and 4 nymphs) of the species P. humanus. Many nits were found on the T-shirt seams. DNA of the investigated pathogens was not detected in any of the lice. Conclusions: The exceptionality of the described case lies both in the report of P. humanus from a country where it had not been reported since 1945, and in its finding from second-hand clothes for sale in a market, constituting a potential source of infection for people buying this type of goods. The question arises, how did adults and nits of P. humanus infest clothes for sale on a market stall in a country where it had not been reported for decades. Given that the body louse requires frequent blood meals to survive and develop, its arrival on clothes imported from abroad is highly improbable. Hence, it must be presumed that people infected with the human body louse are present in Italy. This report points out a serious regulatory problem regarding the management of second-hand clothes prior to sale and, more generally, of controls in street markets.

Original languageEnglish
Article number201
JournalParasites and Vectors
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - May 3 2019


  • Body louse
  • Italy
  • Marketed clothes
  • Parasite
  • Pediculus humanus
  • Vector

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • Infectious Diseases


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