Here are some key facts:
You can read about pubic lice in more detail below.
Pubic lice can take a few weeks to appear so you may not notice them immediately. Some people may not have any symptoms or notice them.
When they do appear, they are tiny (approximately 2mm) and difficult to see. If you can see them, they are six-legged, with two larger legs like claws (which is why they are sometimes called ‘crabs’).
They are often yellow-grey or red in colour and they attach their eggs to the base of the hairs. The eggs are pale brown in colour and the empty egg sacs are white.
You may notice other signs like:
Eyelashes and eyebrows can also be affected but this is less common.
Having pubic lice is in no way a sign of poor hygiene. They are spread by having close body contact with someone that has them and will crawl from hair to hair.
They can be passed on through any close body contact including vaginal, anal or oral sex and they may be passed on by sharing towels and bed linen (though this is much less common as lice can only survive for around 24-48 hours if not in contact with the human body).
They cannot jump like fleas or fly and they survive on human blood. Pubic lice cannot transmit HIV or other STIs.
Pubic lice are different to head lice and pubic lice do not live in the hair on your head. They prefer coarser but more widely spaced hair.
Condoms will not protect you from pubic lice.
There is no test for pubic lice but it is easy for a health professional to diagnose by examining the areas with a magnifying glass. They will be looking out for the lice and their eggs.
Treatment can be done at home using special types of insecticide lotions, creams or shampoo:
You will need to ensure that anyone you have had close body contact with is treated too – as well as anyone you live with.
It is also recommended that you wash your sheets and towels at 50 degrees or higher to kill off the lice and their eggs.
Avoid having further close body contact until you and your partner have finished treatment. This includes any sexual activity. It is advised that you do not have any sexual intercourse, including vaginal, anal or oral sex until you and your partner have finished treatment and any follow up treatment. This is to prevent you being re-infected or passing the infection on to someone else.
If they are left untreated, the lice may spread to other parts of the body. The side effects can also cause other issues such as skin irritation and infections. Pubic lice will not go away without treatment and are likely to be passed to someone else.
Page last reviewed: July 2015
Next review due: July 2017