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Pubic Lice (Crabs)

What Is It?
Pubic lice are tiny insects that can crawl from the pubic hair of one person to the pubic hair of another person during sexual intercourse. You can also catch pubic lice from infested clothing, towels, and bedding. Once they are on a person's body, the insects live by sucking blood from their host. Pubic lice are sometimes called "crabs" because when seen under a microscope they look like tiny crabs.

How Does a Girl or Guy Know They Have It
Pubic lice cause intense itching. A person who has been exposed to pubic lice may notice tiny, gray insects crawling in their pubic hair. He or she may also see tiny (about the size of the head of a pin), oval-shaped, white blobs called nits clinging to the hair. Nits are the louse eggs, and they can't be easily removed from the hair with the fingers, so there are "nit combs" that can be purchased at pharmacies.

What Are the Symptoms?
A person who has been exposed to pubic lice will usually notice symptoms within 1 week. But it can take up to 2-3 weeks for the mature lice to appear. That means that itching may start in the first week, but you may not actually notice the lice for 2-3 weeks after you've been exposed! The primary symptom is itching, but lice can also lead to a grayish colored rash on your abdomen and thighs.

What Can Happen?
It's unusual for pubic lice to create any serious health problems, but the itching can be very uncomfortable, and it's easy to transmit them to others. The female lice can survive up to 40 days and each can lay 20 to 30 eggs (yuck!). Lice can also live off the body for 2 to 3 days. Because of this it is important to get properly diagnosed and treated, or it can take forever to get rid of them.

How Is It Treated?
If you think you may have pubic lice or if you have had a partner who may have pubic lice, you need to see a doctor or gynecologist right away. If he or she diagnoses pubic lice, you may be prescribed medication or told to buy an over-the-counter medicine that kills the lice and their eggs. The important thing to remember is that the treatment you use may need to be repeated in 1-2 weeks to kill any lice you didn't get the first time.

You will also need to dry clean or use very hot water to wash all your bedding, towels, or recently worn clothing to properly kill the lice and their eggs. Anyone with whom you've had sex should also check for pubic lice immediately - even if you used a condom, pubic lice can still be transmitted.

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