The Oldest Profession

Pubic lice (Crabs)


What are they?

Pubic lice are tiny parasitic insects that live in pubic hair, underarm hair, hair on the body and, occasionally, in eyebrows and eyelashes. They are yellowy-grey and about 2mm long. They have a crab-like appearance, so are often known as 'crabs'.

The eggs are called 'nits' and appear as brownish dots fixed to coarse body hair. Pubic lice don't live on the hair on your head and are different from head lice.

How do catch them?

They're easily passed from one person to another through close body contact or sexual contact. Both men and women can catch them and pass them on.

Pubic lice can live for up to 24 hours off the body, but because they depend on human blood for survival, they'll rarely leave the body unless there's close body contact with another person.

They move by crawling from hair to hair - they cannot jump or fly. Pubic lice can be spread by sharing clothing, bedding or towels.

What are the symptoms?

Pubic Lice

Some people have no symptoms, or may not notice the lice or eggs, so you may not know whether you or a partner has pubic lice. It can take several weeks after coming into contact with pubic lice before any symptoms appear.

You might notice:

  • Itching in the affected areas
  • Black powdery droppings from the lice in underwear
  • Brown eggs on pubic or other body hair
  • Irritation and inflammation in the affected area, sometimes caused by scratching
  • Sky-blue dots (which disappear within a few days) or very tiny specks of blood on the skin

Sometimes you might notice the lice move, but they're tiny and keep still in the light.

What's the treatment?

Get checked if you think you've been in contact with pubic lice. In most cases you can tell if you have them by looking closely. Testing is free on the NHS - you can go to your GP, a genitourinary medicine clinic, sexual health clinic, or ask a pharmacist.

Treatment is simple and involves using a special cream, lotion or shampoo, which can be bought from a pharmacy. Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist will advise.

Lotions tend to be more effective than shampoos, and sometimes the treatment has to be repeated after three to seven days.

All bedding, clothing and towels need to be machine washed on a hot cycle.

Tell the doctor, nurse or pharmacist if you might be pregnant, are pregnant or are breastfeeding, as this will affect the type of treatment you're given. Everyone in your household should be treated at the same time, as well as any sexual partners.

What if the pubic lice aren't treated?

They won't go away without treatment.

Advice and support

Go to your general practice, a genitourinary medicine clinic, a sexual health clinic or talk to a pharmacist.

You can call fpa's helpline on 0845 122 8690.

Article originally published by the BBC based on information from the FPA