Pubic lice, also known as crabs, are very small insects that infest your genital area. These lice feed on human blood and cause intense itching in affected areas. Pubic lice usually live on pubic hair and are spread through sexual contact. In rare cases, they can be found in eyelashes, armpit hair, and facial hair. Pubic lice are often smaller than the body and head lice. Pubic lice infestations are more common among people who have STIs.
How you can get pubic lice
Pubic lice are typically transmitted through intimate skin to skin contact with an infected person, including sexual intercourse. Other means of getting pubic lice include using the blankets, towels, sheets, or clothing of people who have pubic lice.
Adult lice lay their eggs on the hair shaft, near the skin. These eggs are called nits. Seven to 10 days later, the nits hatch into nymphs and start feeding on the blood of the infected person. The lice can live without their food supply for one to two days.
You cannot get pubic lice from any of these means
- From a toilet seat or furniture.
- It does not jump from an infected person to another person.
- Pubic lice usually don’t fall off of their host unless they’re dead.
Recognizing the signs of pubic lice
People with pubic lice often experience itching in their genital region or anus about five days after the initial infestation. At night, the itching will become more intense. Other common symptoms of pubic lice include:
- low-grade fever
- lack of energy
- pale bluish spots near the bites
- Excessive itching may cause wounds or an infection in the affected areas. Children with lice infestations on their eyelashes are also at risk of developing conjunctivitis (pink eye).
Precautions to take if you are infected with pubic lice
- Don’t allow another person to sleep in your bed if you have a pubic lice infestation.
- Do not share blankets, towels, or any piece of clothing with another person.
In children, the lice usually live in their eyelashes or eyebrows. The presence of pubic lice in a child might also indicate sexual abuse.
Diagnosing pubic lice
You can usually diagnose yourself by thoroughly examining your pubic area. You can use a magnifying glass to look for pubic lice if you suspect an infestation but can’t see well enough to be sure.
Lice are usually pale gray, but they can darken in color after drinking your blood. You’re probably infected with lice if you see small, crab-shaped insects moving in your pubic hair.
Lice eggs are another indicator of an infestation. The eggs are tiny and white and are usually found around the roots of pubic hair or other body hair. Call your doctor if you’re showing signs of a pubic lice infestation.
Getting rid of pubic lice
- Decontaminating yourself, your clothes, and your bedding.
- Using topical, over-the-counter lotions and shampoos can be used to remove pubic lice from your body. Ask your doctor which products are safe to use if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or are treating an infant for pubic lice.
- Wash your pubic hair if your lice infestation is mild. If the infestation is severe, you might need prescription medication. It is best to see a doctor.
- Even after treating the lice successfully, a few stubborn lice eggs might cling to your hairs. You could remove any leftover nits with tweezers. Home remedies, such as shaving and hot baths, aren’t effective for treating pubic lice. Lice can easily survive ordinary soap and water.
- If several people in your household have contracted pubic lice, treat everybody at the same time. This helps prevent reinfection.
- Decontaminate your home. Vacuum the entire house and clean the bathroom with bleach solution. Wash all towels, bedding, and clothing in hot water, and machine dry them using the highest setting. If you can’t wash or dry clean a certain item of clothing, seal it in an airtight plastic sack for 72 hours.
How to prevent pubic lice infestations
To prevent a pubic lice infestation, you should avoid sharing clothes, bedding, or towels with anyone who has pubic lice. Sexual contact should also be avoided until treatment is complete and successful.
Once you’ve been diagnosed with pubic lice, you must inform all current and past sexual partners so that they can be treated as well.