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Pubic lice or crabs

Pubic lice (often called "crabs") are tiny insects that live on body hair, usually in the genital area. Occasionally they are found on hair on the legs, armpits, mustache, beard, eyebrows, or eyelashes. Pubic lice will not go away without treatment. They are treated with a special shampoo that you can buy at a drugstore without a prescription.

Causes

Pubic lice are small crawling insects that may be visible in the pubic hair. They can be clear to darker brown in colour. Pubic lice are spread by close person-to-person contact, including sexual contact. Pubic lice are also spread by sharing bedding, clothing or towels. They cannot jump or fly and condoms do not prevent the spread of pubic lice.

Symptoms

The most common symptom of pubic lice is itchiness. Bites can cause a rash or small bluish spots on your skin. The spots may last for several months, even after all lice are gone.

You also see tiny tan-coloured specks on your pubic hair, very close to the skin, that cannot be easily pulled off. These specks are the eggs (nits), which are laid by adult lice.  

Complications

Scratching can lead to skin infections. See a health care provider if you develop a skin infection. 

Tests and Diagnosis

The adult lice and nits can be seen during an exam. The pubic lice are typically 1 mm in length. It can be easier to see the nits on the hair than it is to see the lice.

Treatment

Pubic lice are treated by using a special shampoo that you can buy without a prescription. A pharmacist or public health nurse can give you information about how to use the shampoo. Your sexual partners need to be treated. Other people living in your house do not need to be treated unless they have shared your bed, clothes or towels.

All clothes and bed sheets need to be washed with hot water (50 degrees celsius) or dry-cleaned. Anything that cannot be washed in hot water or dry-cleaned should be put in a sealed airtight plastic bag for one week. Mattresses should be vacuumed.

Resources

BC Centre for Disease Control – Pubic Lice


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