Pubic lice (Phthirus pubis) are parasites which live in coarse body hair including pubic and underarm hair. They are sometimes called “crabs” because of their resemblance to the sea creature, however, they are much smaller with an adult measuring approximately 2cm.
These lice have dual forelegs used for gripping hairs and can be found in pubic, facial and body hair, and in some cases, on eyelashes and eyebrows. They are most commonly spread through sexual contact with an infected person and sometimes through sharing towels and bedding. Unlike most other STIs, condoms do not help to prevent the transfer of pubic lice from one person to another.
Because they are so small, they can often be difficult to spot. Symptoms to look out for include itching, black powder in underwear and blue or blood spots from the lice’s bites. If you are worried you may have caught crabs, visit a sexual health clinic or your GP.
- Infection site: coarse body hair, predominantly pubic (rarely, eyebrows and eyelashes).
- Transmission occurs during close body contact, usually sexual activity.
- Lice or eggs can be visible in the hair.
- Itching is a common symptom.
- If you’re infected, you may see lice faeces in your underclothes; it looks like sprinkled black pepper.
- Pubic lice infections can be treated with shampoos, creams and lotions containing insecticides.
- Some treatments must be applied to the affected area whereas others to the whole body
- If one treatment does not work, your doctor may prescribe another for you to try.