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Pubic lice

Pubic lice (crabs) are annoying, but harmless. You can get pubic lice through sexual contact, but they’re also spread through clothing and sleeping bags or if you lie very close to each other.

What are pubic lice?

A pubic louse (or 'crab') is 1.5 to 2.5 mm long, grey or light brown, and has 6 legs. Pubic lice attach themselves to the base of hairs, where they lay their eggs (nits). Nits are visible as small white dots on the hair.

Symptoms

Pubic lice cause itching in your pubic hair. This starts about 2 weeks after you’ve had sexual contact with someone who has pubic lice. The itching is caused by the lice. Usually the lice are found in the hair around your genitals and your anus. They can also live in armpit hair, chest hair or in the hair on your thighs or around your navel. Pubic lice can even live in your eyelashes and eyebrows.

Scratching does not help

The lice live on human blood. They leave red or brown droppings which you may see as red or brown spots in your underwear. You may get red and irritated skin. Scratching doesn’t help. It can actually make things worse by causing an infection. 

Treatment

You can treat pubic lice yourself. Go to a pharmacy and buy a product like Loxazol lotion or cream or Prioderm lotion to treat the lice. Repeat the treatment after a week. After the second treatment, you can be sure that all eggs and lice are dead. Washing with soap and water or shampoo will not get rid of pubic lice.

Cleaning

Wash the clothes you were wearing before the treatment at a minimum of 60°C. Also wash your bedding, to kill the eggs. Air your mattress and pillow. Put anything you can’t wash in a sealed plastic bag for at least 2-3 days (48-72 hours).

To ensure that the lice won’t return, it’s important that anyone you had sex with is also treated. Even if they have no symptoms. 

Tip

If you’ve caught pubic lice during unsafe sex, you may have another STI too. Go to your doctor or to a Sense drop-in session and get yourself tested.