Pubic Lice (Crabs)

Pubic lice (commonly referred to as “crabs”) is often, but not always sexually transmitted, and is curable.

WHAT IS IT?
Pubic lice, often called “crabs” because the insects look like tiny crabs, is an infestation of lice in the pubic hair. They are similar to (but not the same as) head lice. Though pubic lice live primarily in the pubic hair, they can also live in other body hair, including eyebrows, eyelashes, and facial hair. They are parasites, which means they need to have a host to survive. They feed on the infected person’s blood.

HOW IS IT TRANSMITTED?
A person does not need to have intercourse to contract pubic lice. Pubic lice can be spread through any kind of intimate contact with an infected person’s pubic hair. Sharing the towels, bedding, or clothing of an infected person can also spread pubic lice. It is possible, but not likely, to contract public lice from a toilet seat.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
The common symptoms of an infestation of pubic lice are:

o Intense itching around the genital area
o The presence of gray or white bugs (that become darker when filled with blood)
o White flecks on the pubic hair (the eggs of the lice)
o Scabs (from scratching until blood is drawn)
o Tiredness, irritability, and fever

HOW IS IT TREATED?
Pubic lice are treated like head lice are – with a special medicated shampoo. Depending on the seriousness of the infestation and whether or not is has spread to other parts of the body, more than one application of the shampoo may be required. People with crabs will also need to launder all their clothing, bedding, and towels in hot water. Bleach should be used if possible.

A health care professional is not required to diagnose pubic lice, though they can if needed. It may not be necessary for a person with pubic lice to make an appointment with a clinician. People who believe they have crabs should call their health care provider, who may be able to diagnose the infection over the phone and can give instructions on the specific type of shampoo that’s required to treat the infection. If a person treats their pubic lice but other symptoms remain, like pain or itching in the genital area, they should consult with their health care provider.

HOW CAN I PROTECT MYSELF FROM IT?
The best way for a person to protect themselves from pubic lice is to limit intimate contact with others by:

o Abstaining from all forms of sexual contact
o Never sharing bedding, towels, or clothing with others
o Avoiding intimate contact with people who are known to have crabs

Male condoms will not provide any protection from pubic lice because they do not cover the pubic hair. Female condoms may provide a little bit of protection during vaginal intercourse and dental dams can make oral-anal and oral-vaginal contact safer.