Got ants in your pants? With pubic lice or “crabs,” it will sure feel like it. These tiny parasites affect 3 million Americans each year and 1–2 percent of all people worldwide. To avoid joining those statistics, take the time to learn about them. Pubic lice easily spread through sex and show up with other sexually transmitted infections over 30 percent of the time.
However, it’s possible to get pubic lice without having sex. The risk increases with poor hygiene or having close contact with someone with pubic lice.1 23 Here’s the good news: Pubic lice are not dangerous. Instead of major health problems, you’ll get very intense itching. For some, it can be stressful to deal with. So, here’s what you need to know about pubic lice, their symptoms, and the best preventive measures.
What Are Pubic Lice?
Pubic lice, or pthirus pubis, look like tiny crabs. They usually attach to the skin and hair around the genitals but can also latch onto coarse hair like mustaches, beards, eyebrows, or armpit hair.4 A pubic lice infestation is called pthiriasis.5 They are not the same as the lice found on your head.
Life Cycle Of Pubic Lice
Females only live for 3 to 4 weeks. During that time, she lays eggs on a hair shaft. These are also known as nits.
After about a week, the eggs hatch. They look like tiny versions of adult lice. Over the next few weeks, they go through three stages of shedding before reaching adulthood.
At 1.5 to 2.0 millimeters long, adult pubic lice are still small, but they can be spotted with the naked eye. Compared to “normal” head and body lice, they’re much broader in size. The adult pubic lice feed on human blood. If they’re removed, they’ll die after 24 to 48 hours.6
Signs And Symptoms Of Pubic Lice
Itchy genitals are never a good sign and pubic lice are no different. An infestation will cause very intense itching. It might be hard to focus on anything else.
Finding lice and eggs attached to your pubic hair is a tell-tale sign. These bugs are small but more noticeable if you look closely; a magnifying glass will be useful. Again, pubic lice look like crabs. They’re usually light gray or tan but darken when they’ve eaten blood.7
Spots On Underwear
All that scratching can cause bleeding. Plus, the pubic lice may also bite your skin. This will lead to rust-colored dots on your underwear.8
Dark Skin Spots
Look at your actual skin. If there are dark or blue spots, this may indicate pubic lice. The discoloration is from the pubic lice bites.
Not feeling too great? This is another sign of pubic lice. Fever, fatigue, and irritability should not be ignored.9
How To Get Rid Of Pubic Lice
Luckily, killing pubic lice and their eggs is easy. You can get over-the-counter products without a prescription. They come in the form of shampoos, gels, and lotions.10 Ask your doctor which is the best choice for you. He or she may have a recommendation, depending on your current health status. Your partner should also get checked. Wash sheets and clothes with hot water, and vacuum furniture. Don’t have sex until you’re completely lice-free.11
How To Prevent Pubic Lice
Do not have sex with someone who has pubic lice. To stay safe, be mindful of who you have sex with. You can get both tested before having intercourse. Don’t share bedding or towels with people you don’t know. Sex should be avoided until treatment is done. During this time, wash clothes, bedding, and towels with hot water. If you have an infestation, all of your partners should be tested.
Remember, over 30 percent of pubic lice cases show up with a different STI. If you have pubic lice, get tested for other infections. This will prevent complications down the line.
|↑1, ↑3||Pubic Lice (Crabs). Planned Parenthood.|
|↑2||Singh, A., K. Tripathy, N. Gupta, P. Kale, N. Verma, and B. R. Mirdha. “Phthirus pubis in the eye.” (2016).|
|↑4||Diagnosis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑5||Pubic “Crab” Lice. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑6||Pubic “Crab” Lice: Biology. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑7, ↑9||What are the symptoms of pubic lice (crabs)? Planned Parenthood.|
|↑8, ↑11||Types of STDs (STIs). Girls Health, Office on Women’s Health.|
|↑10||Treatment. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|