Pubic Lice (Crabs)

What is pubic lice?

Pubic lice (Phthirus pubis), also known as “Crabs”, are a form of lice. They are flat-backed, wingless, and greyish-white or reddish-brown in colour.  Pubic lice are sometimes called crab lice because they look similar to crabs. 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.  The lice do not transmit HIV or other sexually transmitted infections (STDs), but a sexual health check-up is always recommended if you have pubic lice.

Crabs are usually found in the pubic area where they attach to the short, coarse pubic hair. They may also be found in the underarms, moustaches, beards, eyebrows and eyelashes.


How do I get pubic lice?

The lice crawl from hair to hair but don’t jump or fly from person to person. It may take several weeks for you to notice any symptoms.  You can get crabs when you have sex with a person who has crabs or by sharing bedding, towels or clothing with a person who has it.

Do I have pubic lice?

The most common sign in both men and women is itching in the genital area. You might find tiny dark specks in your underwear, bed sheets and on your skin. These specks are in fact waste material from the crab.  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). You might be able to see the lice, or you could see tiny red spots where they have bitten you.

Pubic lice looks like dandruff flakes at the base of your pubic hair, but those are actually crab nits (eggs).  A doctor or nurse will be able to tell if you have pubic lice simply by doing a visual check of your genitals.

How do you treat pubic lice?

Pubic lice are treated with a special lotion that you can buy at any pharmacy without a prescription. You should speak to the pharmacist so he or she can help you decide which lotion is best for you. If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, talk to a doctor or pharmacist before starting any treatment.

You’ll probably only need one treatment. But if you continue to have symptoms after your treatment is finished, talk to your doctor or pharmacist. Your sexual partner(s) or anyone who has shared your bed, towels or clothing should be treated at the same time.

While you’re being treated for pubic lice, you should:

  • Put on freshly washed, clean clothing after the treatment and again after showering the lotion off.
  • Wash your clothing, bedding and towels in hot water and then place them in the dryer on the hottest cycle for 20 minutes.
  • Dry-clean anything that can’t be washed, or pack them loosely in a sealed plastic bag for 2 weeks.
  • Exposing clothes, bed sheets, towels, and blankets that have come in contact with pubic lice to freezing temperatures will kill the lice.
  • Vacuum your mattresses and pillows then spray them with a household disinfectant.
  • Vacuum rugs and furniture as well.

How do I prevent pubic lice?

Pubic lice are not linked to poor personal hygiene. They are spread through close body contact with someone who has them. They are most commonly passed on during sexual contact. Condoms will not prevent them being passed to another person.  To prevent getting pubic lice check yourself for signs and strictly follow treatment advised to prevent recurrence.