Pubic lice (crabs)
What is it?
Pubic lice, also called crabs, are tiny insects found in your genital area. They are a different type of insect than head lice and body lice. Measuring less than 1/8 inch (3 millimeters), pubic lice received their nickname because their bodies resemble sea crabs.
The most common way to acquire pubic lice is through sexual intercourse. In children, pubic lice may be found in their eyebrows or eyelashes and can be a sign of sexual abuse. However, children can sometimes catch pubic lice from heavily infested parents simply by sharing a communal bed.
Pubic lice feed on your blood and their bites can cause severe itching. Treatment includes applying over-the-counter creams and lotions that kill the parasites and their eggs.
If you have pubic lice (crabs), you may experience intense itching in your genital region. Pubic lice don't infest the scalp, but they can spread to other hairy areas, including the:
- Upper thighs
- Beard or mustache
- Eyelashes or eyebrows, in children
Pubic lice are most commonly transmitted during sexual activity. Although it's unusual, you may also acquire pubic lice from contaminated sheets, blankets, towels or clothes.
People who have other sexually transmitted diseases are more likely to also have pubic lice.
Pubic lice infestations can usually be treated with a louse-killing lotion or gel. However, a pubic lice infestation sometimes leads to complications such as:
- Discoloured skin. Pale blue spots may develop where pubic lice have been feeding continually.
- Secondary infections. If itchy lice bites cause you to scratch yourself raw, these wounds can become infected.
- Eye irritations. Children who have pubic lice on their eyelashes may develop a type of pink eye (conjunctivitis).
You or your doctor can usually confirm a pubic lice infestation through a visual examination of your pubic area. The presence of moving lice confirms infestation.
Lice eggs (nits) also may indicate an infestation. However, nits can cling to hairs and be present, although no longer alive, even after successful treatment.