Pubic Lice (crabs)

Pubic lice are tiny parasitic insects that live in coarse body hair, like pubic hair.

They are yellowish and about 2mm big so can be seen with the naked eye. Under a magnifier they have crab-like appearance, so they are sometimes known as crabs. Their eggs look like brown coloured specs attached to body hair. Pubic lice are common. They are not the same as head lice, which children can get on their scalp.

How do I get it?

Pubic lice are very easily passed from one person to another through close body contact, including sexual contact, with someone who has them. Having public lice does not mean you have poor body hygiene.  

They can be found in any coarse (thick) hair e.g. pubic hair, underarm and leg hair, hair on the abdomen and chest, beards and, rarely, in eyebrows and eyelashes. They don't live in head hair.

Public lice will rarely leave the human body. They require close body contact, to pass from someone to another. Sometimes pubic lice can be spread by contact with clothing, bedding and towels that've been used by someone with pubic lice.

They move by crawling from hair to hair – they don’t fly or jump.

What might I notice if I have it (Symptoms)?

Some people do not get any symptoms and do not notice the lice or eggs. It can a few weeks after being exposed to pubic lice before symptoms show. This might be, seeing the lice or their eggs or an itchy tickly sensation on the genitals.

How do I get tested?

Doctors and nurses can usually tell if you have lice, by looking (sometimes with a magnifying glass). Sometimes they may even be able to pick one of the lice up with tweezers to view and confirm under a microscope.

What is the Treatment?

Treatment is a either a cream, lotion or shampoo that you apply to all body areas affected.

Your doctor or nurse will advise you how long to leave the treatment on, before washing it off.

The treatment must be repeated after 3–7 days. You do not need to shave your pubic or other body hair.

You should wash your clothes, bed sheets, duvet covers and towels in a washing machine at a high temperature program (60°C or higher) in order to kill lice and avoid re-infection.

The treatment is also available without prescription from a pharmacy if you believe you have public lice and want to self-treat. Seeing as lice may be acquired through sexual contact, we would always recommend you getting a sexual health screen, particularly if you have had unprotected (no condom) sex.  

Your current sexual partner(s) should be treated at the same time as you even if they don’t have any symptoms.