Pubic lice

Last updated:

Reviewed by:

, Lead GP at Livi

Medically reviewed

Pubic lice, also called crabs, are tiny parasites that live in pubic hair. They may be itchy and cause sores from bites or scratching. Read more about pubic lice and how to get rid of them.

What are pubic lice?

Pubic lice are small parasites less than 2mm in size that live in pubic hair. They belong to the same family as head lice and body lice. They aren’t a serious health problem and are less common than head lice. 

What are the symptoms of pubic lice?

The most common symptom is itching in the pubic area, particularly around the vagina or penis that’s worse at night. The itchiness is caused by a hypersensitivity reaction (similar to an allergic reaction) to the saliva of the lice. It can take up to a month for this to start. You may also have blue spots caused by lice bites or scratch marks from itching. These marks can develop into sores and can get infected if they’re not looked after properly. 

Pubic lice can also live in the hair on your chest, underarms or face. They can also be found in the eyelashes, causing them to become sticky or crusty.  

The main complications of pubic lice are infections of the scratches and swelling of the lymph nodes in the groin area. 

How do you know if you have pubic lice?

Pubic lice, and their eggs – known as nits – are usually visible to the naked eye and so can be diagnosed with a simple inspection of the affected area. Since they can be very small, sometimes a magnifying class is required to confirm the diagnosis. 

There are other conditions that can cause itchiness, such as scabies, and can sometimes be confused with public lice. If in doubt you should check with your doctor. 

What causes pubic lice?

Like other types of lice, having pubic lice doesn’t mean you have poor hygiene. Pubic lice are usually spread through close bodily contact since they can’t fly or jump. Since they’re most commonly spread through sexual contact, they’re considered a sexually transmitted infection (STI)

It’s also possible for pubic lice to spread by sharing bedding or clothes, but this is much less common. Pubic lice can’t survive more than 24 hours away from a host.

How is a pubic lice infection treated?

Pubic lice can be treated with a lotion that kills the lice. Any other hairy areas on your body should also be treated to stop the infection from spreading. You may need to cut or shave off your hair if you have a lot of nits. Antiparasitic treatments are not effective against nits, so you’ll need to be treated again in 7 to 10 days once they’ve hatched. 

You should also clean your towels, bed linen and clothes by washing them at 60 C or higher to decontaminate them and prevent another infection. If this isn’t possible, seal them in a plastic bag for a week. It is important to vacuum your mattress so that any remaining lice are removed. 

If you have pubic lice, we recommend that you test for other STIs (urethritis, syphilis, hepatitis B, HIV). Your sexual partners also need to be treated.

When should I talk to a doctor?

If you have any symptoms, see a doctor as soon as you can. While pubic lice aren’t a disease, the sores they cause are at risk of infection. Pubic lice are also highly contagious, so getting treatment early helps stop them from spreading.

How can Livi help?

A Livi healthcare professional can tell you if you have pubic lice. If you have no complications, they may prescribe a suitable treatment for you and refer you for sexual health screening.

Last updated:
Reviewed by:
undefined, Lead GP at Livi