Pubic Lice (crabs)

What is Pubic Lice?

Pubic Lice, which are sometimes called crabs, infest the genital area and live in pubic hair. They ingest human blood and their bites can be itchy. These lice differ from the type of human lice that can live on the head or body — they are usually smaller, and can be spread via sexual contact.

The lice lifecycle begins when an adult louse lays eggs on the hair shaft. The eggs, sometimes called nits, hatch in seven to 10 days. The young lice, called nymphs, bite and ingest blood as they develop into adults. Lice are tiny and gray, and can be seen with the naked eye or under a magnifier.

People who have a sexually transmitted infection or disease are statistically more likely to have public lice, but they can infect anyone, including children who have contact with infected clothing or bedding.

What are the Symptoms of Pubic Lice?

Itching is the primary symptom associated with pubic lice. You may have itchy skin in your genital area that gets worse at night. It may also be possible to see the bites, which are usually pink or red with pale blue spots nearby.

Some people who have pubic lice also are irritable, easily fatigued and have a low-grade fever.

How is Pubic Lice Treated?

Washing carefully with soap and water and applying an over-the-counter lice treatment can treat many public lice infestations. While the soap doesn’t kill lice, it can help you remove nits and nymphs from your genital area.

You should also wash your bedding and clothing in hot water and machine dry them on high. Items that can’t be washed should be sealed in an airtight plastic bag and left for at least 72 hours, during which time any lice or eggs should die.

Pubic lice cases that don’t respond to at-home treatments should be seen by a medical professional. Your doctor can prescribe topical or oral medications to kill lice that are resistant to over-the-counter products.

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Last Reviewed:
October 10, 2016
Last Updated:
August 24, 2017