Also known as crabs, pubic lice are very small insects that live on thick body hair such as pubic hair, they are spread through physical contact.
Fully grown public lice are only around 2mm long, they are not easy to see. They may not be very pleasant to have but do not cause long-term harm to a person.
Areas they are typically found are:
- Pubic hair
- Underarm hair
- Leg hair
- Chest hair
- Facial hair
- Eyelashes and eyebrows (rare)
Pubic lice are most commonly passed on through sexual contact. Using condoms will not prevent lice moving from person to person.
They are not necessarily due to bad personal hygiene, they are spread through close bodily contact with a person who has them.
The lice can not jump or fly, they crawl between person to person. You can not catch them from animals such as dogs or cats.
It can take several weeks for symptoms to appear after coming into contact with pubic lice.
The sharing of clothing, bedding and towels with a person who has lice can also cause them to spread.
- irritation and inflammation
- what looks like black powder in underwear
- lice bites can cause small blue spots or blood to appear on your skin around the thighs or lower abdomen
Itching is usually more intense at night time as this is when the lice are more active.
There is no test for pubic lice - the way to find if you may have them is to look for them on your body hair.
Your doctor or sexual health clinic may also look for visual evidence of the lice, some sexual health clinics will use a microscope to look for them.
If you are infected with pubic lice you should also get tested for sexually transmitted infections at your sexual health clinic.
You should speak with your doctor or pharmacist to find out which treatment to use and how to use it. Treatment is usually only necessary on the areas where lice are found.
Pubic lice can be treated with a special cream, lotion or shampoo. You must repeat the treatment after 1 week to get rid of any newly hatched lice.
If you are under 18 and/or pregnant or breastfeeding you may require a special type of treatment to get rid of the lice - speak with your doctor about this.
You should warn any people you have had close bodily contact with to also get treated. This includes people you live with and people whom you have had sexual contact with.
Pubic lice are easily spread and as such if you are infected you should limit close contact with others until your treatment is over. This is to reduce the risk of spreading the pubic lice to other people.
Condoms can not prevent pubic lice from spreading, the only way to reduce your risk of getting pubic lice is to limit the number of sexual partners you have.