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Pubic lice are very small, crab-like parasitic insects which live on the pubic hair. Pubic lice are not necessarily sexually transmitted, but are passed on through close body contact.
Pubic lice can take a few weeks to appear so you may not notice them immediately or have any symptoms.
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.
Other signs and symptoms include:
As well as pubic hair, they may also be found on underarm, leg, back or facial hair. 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 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 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.
If you suspect you have pubic lice, you need to visit one of the Brook services, a GUM or sexual health clinic or your local GP surgery. Find your nearest using our find a service tool.
There is no test for pubic lice but it is easy for a doctor or nurse l to diagnose by examining the areas with a magnifying glass. They will be looking for the lice and their eggs.
Pubic lice will not go away without treatment and are likely to be passed to someone else. Treatment can be done at home using special types of insecticide lotions, creams or shampoo which you can get these on prescription or over the counter at a pharmacy.
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. You may find there are empty eggshells stuck to the hairs after treatment but this doesn’t necessarily mean you still have pubic lice.
You can treat pubic lice while you are pregnant or breastfeeding but do let your doctor, nurse or pharmacist know – they will advise which treatments are safe to use.
Not an STI but STIs can trigger it.
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