Pubic lice, commonly called crabs, are tiny insects found in your genital area. They are a different type of louse from head lice and body lice. Measuring 1/16 inch (1.6 millimeters) or less, pubic lice received their nickname because their bodies resemble tiny crabs.
The most common way to get pubic lice is through sexual activity. In children, pubic lice may be found in the eyebrows or eyelashes and can be a sign of sexual abuse. However, it may be possible to catch pubic lice after sharing clothing, bedsheets or towels with an infected person.
Pubic lice feed on your blood, and their bites can cause severe itching. Treatment includes applying over-the-counter creams and lotions that kill the parasites and their eggs.
If you have pubic lice (crabs), you may experience intense itching in your genital region. Pubic lice can spread to other areas with coarse body hair, including the:
Seek medical advice about pubic lice treatment if:
Pubic lice are most commonly spread during sexual activity. You may also get pubic lice from infested sheets, blankets, towels or clothes.
People who have other sexually transmitted infections are more likely to also have pubic lice.
Pubic lice infestations can usually be treated with a louse-killing lotion or gel. However, a pubic lice infestation sometimes leads to complications such as:
To prevent pubic lice infestation, avoid having sexual contact or sharing bedding or clothing with anyone who has an infestation. If you are being treated for pubic lice, all sexual partners also must be treated.
You or your doctor can usually confirm a pubic lice infestation through a visual examination of your pubic area. The presence of moving lice confirms infestation.
Lice eggs (nits) also may indicate an infestation. However, nits can cling to hairs and be present, although no longer alive, even after successful treatment.
If over-the-counter lotions or shampoos that have 1% permethrin (Nix) or pyrethrin don't kill your pubic lice, your doctor may prescribe stronger treatments, such as:
Eyelash and eyebrow treatments. If pubic lice are found in eyelashes and eyebrows, you can treat them by carefully applying petroleum jelly with a cotton swab at night and washing it off in the morning. This treatment may need to be repeated for several weeks and can irritate the eyes if used incorrectly.
If only a few live lice and nits are found, you may be able to remove them using a nit comb or your fingernails. If additional treatment is needed, your doctor may prescribe a topical ointment.
All hairy areas of the body should be thoroughly checked and treated because lice can move away from treated areas to other hairy parts of the body. Shaving won't get rid of pubic lice.
You can get rid of pubic lice with a patient, thorough approach that involves cleaning yourself and any personal belongings that may be contaminated.
These steps may help you eliminate lice infestations:
If you can't get rid of pubic lice on your own, you may need to talk to your family doctor.
Before the appointment, you may want to write a list that answers the following questions:
During the physical exam, your doctor will check your genital area for signs of live lice or viable lice eggs (nits).
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