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what are pubic lice?
Pubic lice are tiny parasitic insects that live on coarse human body hair, such as pubic hair.
They spread through close body contact, most sexual contact.
After you get pubic lice, it can take several weeks before symptoms appear.
Pubic lice are sometimes called crabs because they look similar. Adult lice are about 2mm long and are yellow-grey or dusky red in colour.
The lice attach their eggs (or nits) to the base of hairs.
As well as being found in pubic hair, the lice are also sometimes found in:
underarm and leg hair
hair on the chest, abdomen and back
facial hair, such as beards and moustaches
eyelashes and eyebrows (very occasionally)
The lice do not transmit HIV or other STI’s but a sexual health check-up is always recommended if you have pubic lice.
Pubic lice are not the same as head lice and do not live in the hair on your scalp.
The symptoms include:
itching in the affected areas
inflammation or irritation in the affected areas caused by scratching
black powder in your underwear
blue-coloured spots on your skin where the lice are living, such as on your thighs or lower abdomen
(these are caused by lice bites)
tiny blood spots on your underwear or skin
How do you get pubic lice?
Pubic lice are not linked to poor personal hygiene. They are spread through close body contact with someone who has them.
The lice crawl from hair to hair, but cannot fly or jump. They need human blood to survive, so generally only leave the body to move from one person to another.
They are most commonly passed on during sexual contact.
Condoms will not prevent them being passed to another person.
It is also possible for pubic lice to be spread through sharing clothes, towels and bedding. (Through laying eggs)
Treating pubic lice
You can treat pubic lice yourself at home by using a special type of lotion, cream or shampoo.
The treatment is applied to the affected area and sometimes the whole body. It usually needs to be repeated after three & seven days.
If the treatment doesn't work, you may need to use another type. This is because pubic lice can sometimes develop resistance to certain treatments. Your doctor or pharmacist can advise you on suitable alternatives.
It's also important to treat anyone you have had close body contact with, including current sexual partners and household members.
Complications of pubic lice
A pubic lice infestation can sometimes lead to minor complications, including skin and eye problems.
If you have pubic lice, your skin may become irritated from scratching.
Scratching can cause scratch marks on your skin, or it could lead to an infection such as impetigo (a contagious bacterial skin infection) or 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.
more information is available at www.nhs.uk