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What are pubic lice?

  • Pubic lice, also known as "crabs", are parasites that can live in the pubic or genital area of humans.
  • Pubic lice are different from head or body lice.
  • They may also be found on coarse body hair like the thighs, chest, armpits, eyebrows or moustache/beard.
  • Pubic lice are very small (the size of a pinhead). They are reddish-brown or light gray in color and can be seen moving in the hair. They live for about 3 weeks. They survive for about 24 hours off the body.
  • Adult pubic lice lay eggs called "nits". Nits look like small, brown dots that cannot be pulled or washed off the hair. Nits hatch after 7-10 days.

How are pubic lice spread?

  • Pubic lice are generally spread by skin-to-skin contact during sex with an infected person.
  • Sometimes pubic lice are spread when people share bedding, clothing or towels.
  • People with pubic lice should also be tested for sexually transmitted infections.
  • Pubic lice in children may be a sign of sexual abuse.

How is pubic lice diagnosed?

  • The pubic hair is examined for signs of lice or nits.

What are the symptoms of pubic lice?

  • It may take several days for symptoms to appear.
  • Symptoms include:
    • Itchiness that is worse at night;
    • Dark red dots on your skin or in your underwear;
    • Visible nits or crawling lice.

How are pubic lice treated?

  • Pubic lice and nits are treated with a special medicated shampoo or lotion. These shampoos or lotions are available at a drugstore and do not require a prescription. Talk to a pharmacist if you are unsure of what product to buy or if you are pregnant.
  • Read the label on the shampoo or lotion bottle and do exactly what the directions tell you to do.
  • More than one treatment may be needed if symptoms do not go away. Do not treat the area more than twice in one week.
  • Sexual partners or anyone who has shared a bed, clothing or towel with the infected person must also be treated at the same time.
  • Wash clothing, bedding and towels that were used before and after treatment in hot soapy water and dry in a hot dryer for at least 20 minutes.
  • Bedding or clothing that cannot be washed should be dry cleaned or packed loosely and sealed in a plastic bag for 2 weeks.
  • Vacuum mattresses and other sleeping surfaces. Do not use household lice sprays on your body or on bedding and clothing.

How can pubic lice be prevented?

  • By not having any sexual or close contact with an infected person.
  • Do not share towels, bedding or other personal items.

For more information contact:
your local public health office,
OR your physician or nurse practitioner,
OR HealthLine at 811,
OR see RELATED LINKS below for a sexual health clinic:

Related Documents
pubic-lice-feb2013.pdf  ( 145.1 KB )
Related Links

List of clinics that specialize in dealing with sexually transmitted infections.

Information on common infections, their symptoms, prevention and treatment.

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