What are pubic lice?
Pubic lice are tiny parasite insects which live in coarse human body hair, such as the pubic hair around the genitals. They are sometimes also found in underarm hair, and in unkempt bushy beards. However, they are never found in the hair on your head. They are often also called crabs because of 2 large front legs that resemble the claws of a crab.
Adult pubic lice are extremely small, only about 2mm in length, and are visible in coarse hair. They are usually a distinctive yellowish colour, or perhaps a light reddish shade. The lice lay their eggs, known as nits, in brownish sacs which stick to the hair. When the eggs have hatched, the empty sacs are white.
Note that pubic lice need human blood to survive, so will only leave the body by crawling into the hair of another who may be in close contact, usually during sex. This is how it spreads from person to person, as unlike some insects – they cannot fly or jump.
Although they feed on blood, pubic lice do not carry other diseases, and nor can they pass on HIV or other sexually transmitted infections.
What are the symptoms of pubic lice?
If you have been infected by pubic lice, it could take a couple of weeks before any symptoms actually appear. Men and women share the same symptoms.
The symptoms include:
- Severe itching which is usually worse at night.
- Blackish powdery stuff in your underwear.
- Irritation and inflammation caused by scratching.
- Lice bites can cause small spots of blood on your skin, in areas like the thighs and lower abdomen.
An infestation of pubic lice is easy to diagnose. If you have any of the symptoms, visit the doctor who will examine you, and may use a magnifying glass to look for signs of lice or their eggs.
Do pubic lice cause any complications?
Sometimes there are a few minor complications which may arise from the scratching, such as a skin bacterial infection, or painful boils on the skin. If the lice have, during close contact, crawled onto your eyelashes, you may develop conjunctivitis or eye-inflammation.
These conditions can be successfully treated, but if left untreated for too long, have the potential to make you feel generally out of sorts.
Some treatments for pubic lice
Once diagnosed, the lice are easy to treat:
- It can be done at home using an over-the-counter insecticide cream, lotion or shampoo. Ask the pharmacist for instructions how to use.
- Some of the time treatments need only be applied to the affected areas, while at other times, the entire body may have to be treated. Treatment is usually repeated after 5 to 7 days.
- Before starting treatment wash all clothes, towels or bedding in very hot water.
Lay off sex and avoid close physical contact with other people until you and your partner have completed your treatment, and have been checked to see that the lice have all gone.
To prevent re-infestations, avoid having sex, close personal contact, or sharing bedding and clothing with someone who has lice.
Also note that using a condom does NOT prevent you from picking up a pubic lice infestation.
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