What are pubic lice?
Reviewed by our clinical team
Pubic lice are very small insects that can live in body hair. They are usually found in the pubic hair around the penis or vagina and cause itching. Sometimes, pubic lice are also called crabs.
Are pubic lice an STD?
Pubic lice are spread through close bodily contact, such as sexual intercourse. Because of this, they are often considered a sexually transmitted disease (STD). However, they can also be spread through non-sexual contact, for example, by kissing someone with lice in their beard.
In summary, you can get public lice by:
- Close body contact – such as sexual intercourse
- Non-sexual contact – such as kissing someone with a beard infected with lice
- Shared linen or towels – but this is rare because they don’t survive very long when unattached to a human ‘host’
Symptoms of pubic lice
The symptoms of pubic lice include:
- Itching – usually in the pubic hair region
- Red bumps on the skin where body hair is
- Blue spots where the lice have been feeding
- Black powder in your underwear caused by lice droppings
- A rash or skin irritation where the infection is
- Eye inflammation - only if the eyelashes become infected
If you have any of these symptoms and think you might have pubic lice, it’s important you talk to your doctor. They do not go away without treatment.
Some people might not have any symptoms even though they have an infection. They might still notice the lice on their skin or clothes.
Diagnosing pubic lice
If you think you might have pubic lice, a doctor or nurse will check your pubic hair as well as any other areas which could be infected, such as the armpits and chest. A comb is usually used, as well as a magnifying lens (the lice are very small – about 2mm).
Checking for common STIs is also recommended if you’ve recently been diagnosed with lice. LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor offers a range of STI test kits you can do at home.
How to treat pubic lice
Treatments for pubic lice include:
- Medicated shampoos (with permethrin)
- Medicated creams (with permethrin)
You will be recommended to leave the shampoo on for a few hours. About one week after using treatment, you should go back for another check-up. Recent sexual partners should also get treated, even if they don’t have any symptoms.
Steps you can take to kill pubic lice
To kill lice, you should wash all bed linen and towels on a hot wash (above 60 degrees). All clothes you’ve recently worn should be washed too.
You will also need treatment, as mentioned above, to kill pubic lice. Although it’s recommended you visit your doctor for a check-up if you have lice, you can also buy treatment over the counter, such as Lyclear. This treatment will not kill lice in the eyelashes because it can’t come into contact with your eyes. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if this is a worry.
Are pubic lice becoming extinct?
Public lice have been around for a long time – they started to infect humans 3.3 million years ago. Even though the removal of pubic hair became very common around the millennium, the lice survived this trend, and are also becoming resistant to some treatments (such as permethrin). They are a resilient pest, and it’s important that they are treated quickly to halt the spread.
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