PUBIC LICE

WHAT ARE PUBIC LICE?

Pubic lice, also known as “crabs”, are very tiny insects that cling to pubic hairs, suck blood for food and attach their eggs (nits) to pubic hair.  If you look closely (or with a magnifying glass) for pubic lice they look like tiny crabs that are pale gray to light brown that get darker when swollen with blood.

HOW DO PUBIC LICE SPREAD?

Pubic lice can crawl from the pubic hair of one person to the pubic hair of another person during sex or skin-to-skin contact in the genital area.

Occasionally, they can be found in other areas with coarse hair, such as underarm hair, eyelashes or facial hair, but they rarely infest hair on heads.  It’s also possible to get pubic lice from sharing infested clothing, towels and bedding.

There are several common myths about how pubic lice are passed.  First, people often think that pubic lice are easily spread by sitting on a toilet seat.  However, this would be extremely rare since lice cannot survive for long periods of time away from a warm human body; they also do not have feet designed to hold onto or walk on smooth surfaces such as toilet seats.  Second, pubic lice do not infest animals.  Third, having pubic lice doesn’t mean a person is unclean or dirty.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF PUBIC LICE?

The most noticeable symptom of pubic lice is itching. The itching usually starts about 5 days after a person gets pubic lice. Sometimes people notice either bluish-grayish marks on their thighs and pubic area from the bites and/or blood spots in their underwear. Some people never get noticeable symptoms.

CAN YOU BE TESTED FOR PUBIC LICE?

There is no specific test, but a healthcare provider can examine you to see if there are lice and/or nits (egg sacs of lice) on your body.

CAN PUBIC LICE BE TREATED?

Once a healthcare provider confirms that you have pubic lice, they will recommend a specific treatment. There are several over-the-counter medicines that kill the lice and their eggs, but you should talk with a healthcare provider before using these.


Stronger prescription medicines are also available, but a healthcare provider will need to give you a prescription for them.  Because medicine can’t kill the nits, you need to comb out any hair where they’re found at least once a day for at least one week.  Some people will need to be re-treated after 7-10 days if any of the nits hatched after having used the medicine and were not removed in the combing process.

Shaving off all your pubic hair, hot baths or other home remedies will not work – you need medicine to get rid of pubic lice. The key to getting rid of them is to make sure you get rid of all the nits.

WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU DON’T TREAT PUBLIC LICE?

It’s unusual for pubic lice to create any serious health problems. The itching can be very uncomfortable and sometimes an infection can happen from scratching the infected area.

WHAT IF YOU’RE DIAGNOSED WITH PUBLIC LICE?

First, make sure you use the cream/shampoo that your medical provider has prescribed or told you to use.  Next, you should talk to any recent sex partners you’ve had because they will need to find out if they, too, need to be treated. You should also avoid sexual contact until all nits are gone from you and your partner(s).

You will need to vacuum your home and wash recently worn clothing, bedding, and towels with very hot water and hot dryer cycle in order to kill the lice and their eggs. Items that cannot be washed can either be dry cleaned or sealed in plastic bags for 2 weeks. It is not necessary to decontaminate furniture or fumigate living areas.

IS PUBLIC LICE PREVENTABLE?

The only way to prevent getting pubic lice is to avoid close, intimate contact with infested people, clothing, bedding, and towels. If you or your partner is diagnosed with pubic lice, you should not have sex until treatment has killed all lice and their eggs and all partners have been treated.



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