Pubic lice are tiny insects that infect the pubic hair area and lay eggs. These lice can also be found in armpit hair and eyebrows.
Pubic lice are known as Phthirus pubis. They are found mostly in teenagers. Pubic lice are often spread during sexual activity.
Rarely, pubic lice can passed through contact with objects such as toilet seats, sheets, blankets, or bathing suits at a store.
Animals cannot spread lice to humans.
Other types of lice include:
You are at greater risk for public lice if you:
Pubic lice causes itching in the area covered by pubic hair. Itching often gets worse at night. The itching may start soon after getting infected with lice, or it may not start for up to 2 - 4 weeks after contact.
Other symptoms can include:
The health care provider will do an exam to look for:
Because pubic lice may cause an eye infection (blepharitis) in young children, eyelashes should be viewed with a high-powered magnifying glass.
Adult lice may be easily identified under the microscope. Public lice are often referred to as "the crabs" because of their appearance.
Teenagers with pubic lice may need to be tested for other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Pubic lice are best treated with a prescription wash containing permethrin, such as Elimite or Kwell:
Most people need only 1 treatment. If a second treatment is needed, it should be done 4 days to 1 week later.
Over-the-counter medicines to treat lice include Rid and Nix. Malathione lotion is another option.
While you are treating pubic lice:
People with pubic lice should be checked for other sexually-transmitted infections when lice are discovered.
The proper treatment, including thorough cleaning, should get rid of the lice.
Scratching can make the skin become raw, or even cause a skin infection.
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if:
Avoid sexual or intimate contact with people you know have public lice until they have been treated.
Bathe or shower often and keep your bedding clean. Avoid trying on bathing suits while you are shopping. If you must try on swimwear, be sure to wear your underwear. This may prevent you from getting or spreading public lice.
Pediculosis - pubic lice; Lice - pubic; Crabs
Burkhart CN, Burkhart CG, Morrell DS. Infestations. In: Bolognia JL, Jorizzo JL, Schaffer JV, et al, eds.Dermatology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2012:chap 84.
Diaz JH. Lice (pediculosis). In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R. Mendell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa:Churchill Livingstone Elsevier;2009:chap 293.
Updated by: Kevin Berman, MD, PhD, Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.
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