Have You Heard About Pubic Lice? Know Everything About These Insects In Your Genital Area

What is Pubic Lice? Dr Anup Dhir shares symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment and prevention tips for crab lice.

Tavishi Dogra
Reviewed by: Anup DhirPublished at: Feb 08, 2021Updated at: Feb 08, 2021Written by: Tavishi Dogra
Have You Heard About Pubic Lice? Know Everything About These Insects In Your Genital Area

What are pubic lice or crab lice? Pubic lice are also known as crabs. They are small parasites that attach to the skin and hair near genitals, feed on blood, and be transmitted during sex. Do you know why pubic lice are called crabs? Because they have crab-like claws and many big toes. They are a distinct species of a louse from body lice and head lice. Measuring 1.6 millimetres or less, pubic lice received their nickname because their bodies resemble tiny crabs. Apart from the genital area, they are also found in underarm, chest, legs and beard hair. They suck blood from the skin where it is present.  Pubic lice require human blood to survive, so they move from one person to another. Their eggs are yellow, brown and sometimes they can also be seen with the naked eye. Generally, every person has hair on different parts of the body. And when there is hair, parasites along with dirt will also be present. This article will tell you what pubic lice, how it happens, its symptoms and treatment is.

What are the signs and symptoms of crab lice or pubic lice?

If you have had pubic lice - commonly called crabs, you usually have symptoms within two weeks of becoming infected (but they can occur between five days to seven weeks too). Sometimes you may see white dots lice in the roots of hair around your genitalia moustache, beard, eyebrows, eyelids, legs or armpits may also have lice. They mostly stick to thick hair. Symptoms of pubic lice or lice include:

 symptoms of crab lice

  • The appearance of black powdery substance or red-brown spots on your underwear due to lice faeces
  • A blue spot or small blood spots appear on the thighs and lower abdomen.
  • Yellow spots on the surrounding skin of the genitals after pubic lice bite.
  • Experiencing intense itching around the genitals or in the anal region.
  • Swelling and irritation due to scratches in the genitals and arms.
  • Itching under the feet, chest, eyebrows or armpits
  • Visibility of crawling small white dots (lice eggs)
  • Wounds due to itching around the genitals.
  • Lack of energy in the body.
  • Irritability or mood swings.
  • Mild fever.

What are the causes of pubic lice or crab lice?

Since pubic lice or crab lice cannot jump, fly, or swim, they can crawl from one person's hair to another person's hair. This means that when a person makes a physical contact or when the body comes in contact with another, the other person may be prone to pubic lice. Sexual or non-sexual contact may cause you to have lice. Pubic lice can spread to another person through kissing, hugging, foreplay, oral sex or other sexual activities. Crabs are caused by close contact with each other's skin or by very close conduct or behaviour such as exchanging clothes, beds, sleeping bags, sharing towels, sheets and blankets with another person or using other personal items. You do not get prone to pubic lice by sitting on a toilet seat or swimming in a pool. However, using condoms during intercourse does not protect against pubic lice infection. Instead, due to rubbing in the genitals during this period, lice crawl into the hair of another person's genitals.

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What is the diagnosis of pubic pice or crab lice?

pubic pice

Diagnosing pubic lice in the genitals is extremely easy. Generally, it is a clinical diagnosis depending on symptoms reported. If you want, you can get it diagnosed at home by yourself or by going to a hospital. Usually, doctors use the magnifying glass to look for pubic lice eggs. You also have to get a sexually transmitted infection (STI) tested when pubic lice appear. Although pubic lice do not cause HIV or STI, it is still a precautionary test. Along with this, you also have to tell about your sex partner so that he can also be tested and treated, and you do not spread this infection if you have a physical relationship. How to check pubic lice at home? To diagnose this problem of pubic lice at home, you need to identify pubic lice correctly. In fact, pubic lice are usually light brown but they turn black after drinking your blood. If you see small or crab-shaped insects in your genitals or hair under the armpits, it can be pubic lice. Also, the eggs of pubic lice are small and white and are usually found in the roots of genital hair or body hair that you can diagnose.

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What are the available treatment options for pubic lice or crab lice?

No particular medication is required to treat pubic lice. You can treat this problem by purchasing the cream, lotion or shampoo from the medical store (with the doctor's consultation/advice). Get rid of pubic lice with these two types of remedies:


A lice-killing lotion containing 1% permethrin or malathion can be used to treat pubic (“crab”) lice. But use Permethrin lotion or cream only when you are over 18 years of age. Pregnant women or lactating mothers should not use it. There are similar instructions for both malathion or permethrin lotion or cream. You have to apply it on the full-body hair after bathing and drying of the body. This includes your scalp, face, eyebrows, ears, neck and moustache (if any) and the hair around the anus. Avoid lotion going into your eyes. If this happens, wash your eyes thoroughly with water. A cream, usually called ivermectin, can also be applied to the affected area and left for 10 minutes. After this, the affected area should be cleaned with lukewarm water. After a week, this lotion should be used again.

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Washing of infected items with warm water

  • Before this treatment, wash all worn clothes and beds in the warm water (at a higher temperature).
  • If you cannot wash your clothes, dry them or keep them sealed in plastic bags for 72 hours.
  • Do the same with your mattresses and pillows. Otherwise, you can get infected with pubic lice again.
  • It usually takes 2-3 days for treatment, but you may Repeat treatment in 9–10 days if live lice are still found.
 infected items

How can you avoid pubic lice or crab lice? (PREVENTION TIPS)

  • If you exchange a bed or clothes with an infected person, you must wash them in hot water (at around 60 ° Celsius). Dry things that cannot be washed, such as a mattress or cushion should be sealed for at least 72 hours in a plastic bag.
  • Persons should avoid sexual contact with sex partner until both their partners and themselves have been successfully reevaluated and treated to rule out persistent infestation.
  • Shaving your pubic hair does not get rid of the crabs but does remove their eggs. Remove the lice eggs with a fine comb. Wear clean clothes and tights.
  • Avoid having sex with someone infected with pubic lice. And remember that like other sexually transmitted diseases, the use of condoms cannot prevent lice.
  • Since pubic lice also engulf children, if a person is already infected, do not let the children sleep on their bed or use their belongings.
  • Generally, lice do not survive without exposure to the foreskin for more than one or more days.
  • Usually, pubic lice require blood to stay alive, so do not go around the person suffering from it.
  • Conduct regular checkups to reduce the risk of sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Wash your beds, clothes, and other items in very hot or boiling water.

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