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.
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.
Pubic lice are usually transmitted via person-to-person contact. The lice tend to live in areas with coarse hair, which is why they’re often found in the pubic region, but they can also live in the armpits, on the chest, abdomen and beard in men, and sometimes in the eyelashes and eyebrows.
Usually, lice are contracted during sexual activity. They cannot jump or fly, but instead crawl from hair to hair which is why close body contact is usually how they move from one person to the next. However, it is also possible for them to be transferred via clothing, bedding or towels which have been used by someone with pubic lice.
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.
Since pubic lice are most commonly spread via sexual activity, the only definitive way to prevent them is to avoid having sex. Condoms will not prevent the transmission of pubic lice, so those who have them should avoid having sex until they have been successfully treated.
An individual who has had sex with someone who they know has pubic lice should seek treatment, even if they do not appear to have the lice themselves. This is because the signs of lice may not show up right away, and if they have recently contracted them they may unknowingly pass them back to their partner or to another partner.
It’s also important to avoid sharing towels, bedding or clothing with an individual who has pubic lice. These items should also be thoroughly washed during and after successful treatment of the lice to prevent the lice being contracted again or passed to another person.
Contrary to popular belief, shaving or waxing the pelvic region or other hairy areas of the body will not necessarily prevent pubic lice. Lice can attach themselves to even very short hairs. It’s also not necessarily possible to treat an infestation of pubic lice by waxing or shaving hair.