What are pubic lice?

Pubic lice are small, parasitic insects that typically live in the pubic area or other areas of the body that have coarse hair, such as the armpit, beard, eyebrows or eyelashes. They have three forms: nits, which are eggs; nymphs, which are immature lice; and adults. The scientific name for pubic lice is Phthirus pubis, but they are frequently referred to as “crabs” due to their large front legs that resemble crab claws.

Sexual Health Spotlight

Although pubic lice can be spread to close personal contacts through clothing, towels and linens, they are most commonly spread through sexual contact. Nymphs and adults must feed on human blood and do not survive more than a day or two without access to it. Animals do not carry or spread pubic lice.

Itching is the most common symptom of pubic lice, although it may not start for two to four weeks after exposure. Nits may be seen as small whitish-gray oval eggs attached to the hair. Adult lice may be seen crawling through the hair. Multiple small scabs may be present from scratching.

Over-the-counter lice-killing medications are available and are often enough to treat pubic lice. If these are not successful, prescription medications can be used. After treatment, any remaining nits should be removed with the fingernails or a fine-tooth comb. Also, all clothing, towels and linens should be washed and dried on hot settings, dry cleaned, or sealed in plastic for two weeks.

If over-the-counter medications are not successful in treating the pubic lice or if you have symptoms of pubic lice but do not see any nits or crawling lice, seek prompt medical care. Since lice-killing medications should not be used near the eyes, if you have lice in the eyelashes that you cannot remove, you should also seek prompt medical care. This is also true if you have any sores that produce pus or don't heal. Regardless of the success of treatment, if you have pubic lice, you should contact your health care provider to be evaluated for any sexually transmitted infection that may have been spread at the same time as the pubic lice.

SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of pubic lice?

Itching is the most common symptom of a pubic lice infestation. Because itching often leads to scratching, multiple small scabs may also be present. Nits or crawling lice may be visible.... Read more about pubic licesymptoms

CAUSES

What causes pubic lice?

Pubic lice are small insects that can be sexually transmitted. Although they can only live a day or two off the human body, they can occasionally be spread via clothing, towels or linens.... Read more about pubic licecauses

TREATMENTS

How are pubic lice treated?

Over-the-counter or prescription medications can be used to treat pubic lice. These treatments typically come in the form of lotions, liquids, shampoos or foams. It is important to read and follow the directions carefully to successfully rid yourself of the lice.... Read more about pubic licetreatments

Medical Reviewer: All content has been reviewed by board-certified physicians under the direction of Rich Klasco, M.D., FACEP. Last Annual Review Date: May 2, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Sexual Health


Top Features in Sexual Health

Popular Sexual Health Slide Show

15 Ways To Get Better Medicine

People who are actively involved in their medical care stay healthier, recover quicker when they're ill, and live longer, healthier lives.