What are pubic lice?
Pubic lice are tiny insects that usually live in your pubic area. Sometimes they're also found on facial hair, eyelashes, eyebrows, armpits, chest hair, and the scalp. They're different than the kind of lice that you can get on your head. Pubic lice are also called "crabs" because they look like tiny crabs.
Millions of people get pubic lice every year. It doesn't mean you're not clean.
Pubic lice are usually spread through sexual contact. But sometimes they can spread through shared clothes, bedding, or towels. It's rare to get pubic lice from a toilet seat. That's because lice can't live more than a day or two away from a human body.
Pubic lice can be uncomfortable and inconvenient, but they're not dangerous. And you can learn how to treat them at home.
How are pubic lice diagnosed?
Pubic lice usually cause itching around the genitals, anus, armpits, eyelashes, or other body parts with hair. But not everyone has itching.
You may be able to see pubic lice crawling on shafts of hair. You may also see oval, yellow-white eggs (called nits) attached to hair. Sometimes, you can only see a few of them. It may help to use a magnifying glass.
The bites from the lice can cause small, flat, blue-grey marks on your torso, thighs, or upper arms. These marks can look like bruises. They can last for several months, even after the lice have been killed.
If you have lice in your eyelashes, your eyes can get crusty or irritated.
How are they treated?
It's important to treat pubic lice as soon as possible. They won't go away without treatment.
There are several over-the-counter medicines that kill pubic lice. There are also prescription medicines. Each type of medicine is a little different. It's important to use any medicine correctly and to choose a medicine that is safe for you.
You can also talk to the pharmacist to understand how to use a medicine and make sure that it is safe for you.
You may need to repeat treatment if you still have live lice after the first treatment.
After treatment, you'll still see the shell of the nits attached to the hair. You don't have to remove them. But you can remove them with a comb.
How can you prevent pubic lice from spreading?
Pubic lice are very contagious. That means they can easily spread from one person to another. But you can take steps to prevent that.
- Machine-wash bedding, towels, and clothes in hot water [at least 130°F (54.4°C)]. Dry them in a hot dryer.
- Vacuum your home, including mattresses. You don't have to do other special deep cleaning.
- Avoid sexual contact until you've successfully treated the lice.
- Tell all your sex partners from the last month that you have pubic lice. Talking about this may be uncomfortable. But it will help prevent you from spreading the lice back and forth.
When should you call a doctor?
Call your doctor now if:
- You have signs of infection, such as:
- Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
- Red streaks leading from the area.
- Pus draining from the area.
- A fever.
Call your doctor if:
- You are not getting better as expected.
- Your symptoms get worse.
Current as of: February 26, 2020
Author: Healthwise Staff
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
John Pope MD - Pediatrics