Measuring in at about a millimetre tall, pubic lice (phthirus pubis) are tiny crab-like insects that nest in pubic hair. They bury their heads into the skin and live off human blood, laying their egg sacks (nits) near the base of the pubic hairs.
A substance they secrete into the skin can cause intense itching, and the bites of adult lice turn small patches of skin to a bluish-grey colour.
Unlike head lice, pubic lice have small, wide bodies and arms that resemble crabs. These lice can also be found in chest, armpit and facial hair, eyebrows and eyelashes.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
Pubic lice and nits are small and can be difficult to spot. Infected individuals may experience:
- Skin irritation and inflammation accompanied by itchiness and redness.
- Small blue spots on the skin where lice have bitten.
- Louse feces , fine black particles, in the infected person’s undergarments.
HOW ARE pubic lice SPREAD?
Pubic lice can be spread during intimate contact. They do this by crawling from one person to another, since they have no wings. Pubic lice also can live for one to two days in bedding, towels and clothing belonging to an infected individual, and these items can be a source of transmission. Lice are not related to poor hygiene. Anyone can get lice, though it’s most common among sexually active people and in situations where individuals are in close contact.
HOW ARE pubic lice DIAGNOSED?
Healthcare professionals inspect the area for the crabs and the small greyish-white eggs they lay. Adult lice can easily be identified just by looking at the area with a magnifying glass, or viewing a sample of the area under a microscope.
HOW CAN YOU PREVENT GETTING pubic lice?
- Avoid sharing towels and clothing that have not been washed.
- If it can’t be washed, vacuum it.
- When trying on underwear or a bathing suit at the store always wear something underneath.
HOW ARE pubic lice TREATED?
- Non-prescription shampoo that can be purchased at a pharmacy, clinic or doctor’s office. Usually one wash is all it takes. In cases where a second washing is needed, apply it four days after the first treatment. The pharmacist will be able to help you.
- A fine-toothed comb or the fingernails can be used to scrape the eggs off the hairs.
- It’s important to tell recent sex partners so they can be treated at the same time.
- Clothes, bedding, and other possible contaminated items should be washed in hot water or dry cleaned, or bagged for a week. Items that cannot be washed or bagged should be vacuumed.
- Shaving may not necessarily get rid of the problem
Impact if not treated
- It won’t go away on its own.
- Persistent scratching of irritated skin can cause a secondary bacterial infection.