What you need to know

Pubic lice are tiny parasitic insects that live in coarse body hair, such as pubic hair. They are yellow-grey and about 2mm long. They have a crab-like appearance, so they are often known as crabs. The eggs appear as brownish dots fixed to coarse body hair.

As well as pubic hair, they can also be found in leg or underarm hair, hair on the chest or abdomen, beards and less commonly in eyebrows or eyelashes. They do not live in head hair - pubic lice are different from the head lice that some people get on their scalp.

Signs and symptoms

Symptoms that you should look out for include:

  • irritation and inflammation in the affected areas - this is sometimes caused by scratching.
  • brown eggs on coarse body hair such as pubic hair and black powdery droppings in your underwear
  • itching in the affected areas
  • sky-blue spots (which clear up within a few days) or very tiny specks of blood on the skin

It can take several weeks after coming into contact with pubic lice before the signs and symptoms appear.

Testing and treatment

If you’re itching or have been in contact with pubic lice then it’s worth carefully examining your genital skin. You may notice tiny dark eggs or pubic lice clinging onto your pubic hair. The diagnosis can be made in the sexual health clinic if need be.

Treatment for pubic lice is simple and involves using a special cream, lotion or shampoo.

To be effective, treatment needs to be repeated after three to seven days.

You do not need to shave off pubic or other body hair.

You should wash your clothing, bedding and towels in a washing machine on a very hot cycle (50°C or higher) to kill the lice and avoid re-infection.

Even after successful treatment, itching may continue for a few days. There may be nits in your body hair after treatment but these can be removed with a special comb that you can get over the counter from a pharmacy.

Your sexual partner should be treated at the same time even if they don’t have any signs and symptoms.

Find out more about Beckenham Beacon sexual health clinic.