Pubic Lice (crabs)
What is it?
Pubic lice are tiny parasitic insects that live in coarse body hair, such as pubic hair.
They're yellow-grey and about 2mm long. They have a crab-like appearance, so they're often known as crabs. The eggs appear as brownish dots fixed to coarse body hair.
Getting pubic lice is common. They're different from the head lice which some people get on their scalp. They're easily passed from one person to another through close body contact or sexual contact.
How do I get it?
Pubic lice are easily passed from one person to another through close body contact or sexual contact with someone who has them.
- Pubic lice have nothing to do with poor hygiene.
- They can be found in pubic hair, underarm and leg hair, hair on the abdomen and chest, beards and, rarely, in eyebrows and eyelashes. They don't live in the hair on the head.
- Because pubic lice depend on human blood for survival, they'll rarely leave the body unless there's close body contact with another person, Occasionally pubic lice may be spread by contact with clothing, bedding and towels that've been used by someone with pubic lice.
- They move by crawling from hair to hair – they can't fly or jump.
Signs and Symptoms
Some people won't have any symptoms, or may not notice the lice or eggs, so you may not know whether you or a partner have pubic lice. It can take several weeks after coming into contact with pubic lice before signs and symptoms appear. You might see the lice, eggs or droppings. Some people see pubic lice move, but they're tiny and difficult to see, and they keep still in the light. Sometimes pubic lice will be noticed during a routine genital or medical examination
In most cases, a doctor or nurse can tell if you have pubic lice just by looking. They may use a magnifying glass to look for lice and eggs, which are very small and may not be easily visible. The doctor or nurse may pick up a louse from the hair or skin and look at it under a microscope to check it's a pubic louse.
Treatment for pubic lice is simple and involves using a special cream, lotion or shampoo. The doctor, nurse or pharmacist will advise you on what treatment to use and how to use it.
- Some treatments can be rinsed off after 10–15 minutes; others are left on for longer.
- To be effective, treatment needs to be repeated after 3–7 days.
- You don't need to shave off pubic or other body hair.
- You should wash your clothing, bedding and towels in a washing machine on a very hot cycle (60°C or higher) to kill the lice and avoid re-infection.
- You can also buy treatments for pubic lice from pharmacies – these are useful if you're sure you have pubic lice and want to self-treat. The pharmacist will be able to advise if you have any questions, or are unsure how to use the treatment.
- If you decide to treat yourself, you may still want to consider having a sexual health check to make sure you don’t have a sexually transmitted infection.
- Do tell the doctor, nurse or pharmacist if you are, or think you might be, pregnant or if you're breastfeeding. This will affect the type of treatment you're given.
- There's currently no evidence that complementary therapies can cure pubic lice.
- Your sexual partner(s) should be treated at the same time even if they don’t have any signs and symptoms.
Further Guidance: Pubic Lice