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Pubic lice (crabs)

4-minute read

Pubic lice (also known as crabs) are tiny insects that live in coarse body hair including pubic hair, arm pit hair, beards, chest hair, eyelashes, and eyebrows. They do not live on your head.

The female lice lay eggs (smaller than the size of a pin head) that are glued to the hair. These hatch after 6 to 10 days leaving behind empty shells, known as nits. These look like white or grey oval dots on the hair.

The signs you may have pubic lice are:

  • itching around your genitals or back passage
  • tiny blue spots around your genitals
  • spots of blood or fine, gritty debris in your underwear
  • visible lice or tiny eggs in your pubic hair

The most common way of spreading pubic lice is from sexual contact. If you or your partner have several sexual partners, you increase your chance of getting pubic lice.

You can also catch pubic lice by having close but non-sexual contact with someone who has lice. For example, by kissing someone who has an infested beard or moustache or sleeping in the same bed.

Looking after yourself

If you think you have caught pubic lice from sexual contact, you need treatment with cream/lotion from the pharmacist. You should also consider a visit to you doctor or sexual health clinic so you can be checked for other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Pubic lice can be hard to get rid of or can keep coming back, so it is important to treat them quickly and thoroughly.

  • You cannot get rid of pubic lice by washing or shaving, as the lice only need a minimal length of hair on which to lay their eggs. You do not need to shave your pubic hair.
  • You can treat yourself at home with an insecticidal lotion or cream which is available over the counter from a pharmacy. You will need to repeat this in a week to kill any newly hatched lice.
  • Always follow the manufacturer's instructions when using insecticidal products on yourself or someone else. Over enthusiastic or repeated use of insecticidal products should be avoided as this may cause a secondary contact skin rash.
  • Try to avoid scratching the area as this may cause irritation of the skin. There are over the counter medicines that can relieve pain and itching. You should discuss these with a pharmacist.
  • To avoid the risk of injuring your eyes, you should not try to remove nits from your eyelashes. If your eyelashes are infested, treatment with a special eye ointment, shampoo or cream rinse will be recommended to avoid eye irritation. Talk to your pharmacist about this.
  • To prevent re-infestation, people that you are in close contact with should be treated at the same time. This includes sexual partners and all members of your household, even if they are not yet showing any symptoms.
  • Thoroughly wash your bed linen, towels and clothing in hot water.
  • Don't have sex until the pubic lice have been treated.

Consider others

Reduce the risk of spreading pubic lice by:

  • Avoiding close body contact, including hugging and kissing, with anyone until treatment has worked and you are clear of lice.
  • Ensure you do not share bed linen or towels with someone who may have lice until they have completed treatment. All linen and towels used during the period of treatment must be washed in a hot water cycle and preferably dried on a hot setting in a clothes dryer.
  • Avoiding sexual contact until treatment has worked and you are clear of lice. Ensuring that your sexual partner(s) have been informed and treated otherwise they may re-infest you or infest others.

Not sure what to do next?

If you are still concerned about your pubic lice (crabs), why not use healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: November 2019

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