Sexually Transmitted Infections
What are pubic lice?
Pubic lice are similar to head lice, but only affect pubic hair, body
hair and rarely, eyebrows and eyelashes. They are not found on the hair
of the head. They are known as crab lice.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms are the same for men and women and may take several weeks to appear after catching pubic lice.
The most common symptom is feeling itchy in the affected areas, especially at night.
You may also notice black powder in your underwear or blue spots or small spots of blood on your skin, such as on your thighs or lower abdomen (caused by lice bites).
How are pubic lice passed on?
They are passed from person to person by close body contact, most commonly sexual contact.
It's also possible – though much rarer – for pubic lice to be spread through sharing clothes, towels and bedding.
How do I know if I have it?
Often you can see the crab lice or their eggs (nits) on the hairs.
Adult pubic lice are very small (2mm long) and aren't easy to see. They're a yellow-grey or dusky red colour and have 6 legs.
The lice lay their eggs (nits) in sacs that are stuck firmly to hairs and are a pale brownish colour. When the eggs hatch, the empty egg sacs are white.
Where can I get treatment?
Treatment is available from your GP, sexual health clinic or pharmacist and involves applying a lotion, cream or shampoo at home. Most treatments need to be applied again 7 days later to get rid of any lice that have hatched during that time.
To prevent re-infestation, anyone you have had close bodily contact with, including any sexual partners you have had in the past 3 months, should also be treated, even if they don't have symptoms.
Bed linen, towels and recently used clothing should be washed in a machine on a hot cycle (50 degrees or higher) to ensure the lice are killed.
Certain groups, such as young people under 18 years of age and pregnant or breastfeeding women, may require a specific type of treatment. Also, people with eyelash infection (which is extremely rare) will need a different treatment. If you are in any of these groups, speak to your doctor or pharmacist about which treatments are safe.
If you go to your GP or sexual health clinic you can get tested for other STI's at the same time (a routine STI screen' checks for chlamydia, gonorrhoea, HIV and syphilis). The doctor or nurse will be able to tell if you have pubic lice by examining the affected area.
Will pubic lice come back?
Treatment is successful for most people. You may experience itching afterwards, but this doesn't necessarily mean the lice have come back. Do not use lotion more than the recommended amount and frequency. If your current sexual partners are not treated, it is likely you will be re-infected.
Check for lice 1 week after your second treatment, or return to your GP, practice nurse or sexual health clinic so they can check for you.
Finding empty eggshells (dead nits) doesn't necessarily mean you're still infested as they can remain stuck to the hairs even after treatment.
Occasionally the treatment may not work and you may need to use an alternative. This is because pubic lice can develop resistance to some treatments. Your doctor or pharmacist will be able to advise you about other treatment options.
Using condoms and other barrier methods of contraception does not protect you against pubic lice but they offer protection against most other STI's.
You cannot tell by looking at someone if they have a sexually transmitted infection, so if you are having sex (oral, anal or vaginal) the only way to make sure you are not putting yourself at risk is to practise safer sex. This means:
- always using condoms or femidoms (female condom inserted within the vagina) for vaginal sex.
- always using condoms with water based lube for anal sex
- always using flavoured condoms or dental dams (a latex shield that covers the mouth) when having oral sex
- trying non-penetrative sex like massage or mutual masturbation.
- Not sharing sex toys. If you do share sex toys, wash them or cover them with a new condom between each person who uses them.
Testing and treatment is available from:
If you wish to be seen or are seeking sexual health advice:
Mon - Fri 9.00am - 4.00pm
- General Practitioners
Tel: 0345 702 3687 for other appointments