Pubic lice, also known as crabs, are very small insects that infest your genital area and are often smaller than the body and head lice.
Pubic lice, also known as crabs – are tiny parasitic insects that live on coarse human body hair, such as pubic hair (the hair around your genitals). They can also sometimes be found in other body hair such as underarm hair and beards, but don’t live in the hair on your head. They are also called crabs because they have two large front legs that look like the claws of a crab.
Adult lice and lice eggs are very small (2mm long) and can be seen in coarse hair. They are a yellow-grey or dusky red colour and have six legs.
Pubic lice need human blood to survive, so they will only leave the body to move from one person to another. They crawl from hair to hair, they can’t fly or jump.
How do you get pubic lice?
Pubic lice can be passed on easily and you can get them if you:
- Are in close contact with the body of someone who has pubic lice – most commonly sexual contact, including vaginal, anal or oral sex.
- Hug and kiss someone who has lice.
- Share clothes, towels and bedding – although this is much less common.
Pubic lice, HIV and sexual health
- Pubic lice don’t carry other diseases, and although they feed on blood, pubic lice cannot pass on HIV or other STIs.
If you’re worried about HIV infection, find out everything you need to know in our HIV Transmission and Prevention section
What do pubic lice symptoms look like?
It can be several weeks before any symptoms appear.
Symptoms for women and men include:
- itching – the most common symptom – and usually worse at night
- inflammation and irritation caused by scratching
- black powder in your underwear
- blue spots or small spots of blood on your skin, such as on your thighs or lower abdomen (caused by lice bites).
Can I get tested for pubic lice?
Yes – pubic lice are usually easy to diagnose. At Mens Health Clinics situated at 132 Fox Street, Marshalltown, Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa, We can examine you to look for signs of the lice or their eggs.
Whether you can see the lice and their eggs or not, don’t have sex or close body contact with other people until you and your current sexual partner/s have finished your treatment and have been checked to make sure the lice have gone.
Complications of pubic lice
Occasionally, a pubic lice infestation can lead to minor complications, such as skin or eye problems.
- Scratching can lead to an infection such as impetigo (a bacterial skin infection) or furunculosis (boils on the skin).
- Eye infections, such as conjunctivitis, and eye inflammation, such as blepharitis, can sometimes develop if your eyelashes have been infested with pubic lice.
- Untreated, long-standing infestations can cause you to feel generally unwell.