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revised Thursday March 10 2016
healthy sexuality
Types of Sexually Transmitted Infections ( STIs)

Pubic Lice (Crabs)

This webpage is for information purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

Pubic lice (crabs) are tiny insects that are usually found in the pubic area, where they attach to the short, coarse pubic hair. They may also be found in armpit hair, moustaches and beards, and on eyebrows and eyelashes.

When magnified, pubic lice have the appearance of crabs.

Pubic lice are spread from person to person through close genital skin-to-skin contact, particularly sexual contact. They can also be transmitted through clothing, bedding, towels or contaminated toilet seats.

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of pubic lice for both males and females include:

  • Genital itching. (This is the most common sign of pubic lice.)
  • Tiny specks of dark brown on your underwear or bed sheets.
  • Tiny read spots on your skin where the lice have bitten you.
  • Crab nits (eggs) at the base of your pubic hair. (These look a lot like dandruff flakes.)

Diagnosis & Treatment


Your doctor can easily identify a pubic lice infestation by examining your pubic hair. Both the insects and the nits attached to the base of the hair are easy to see without any special equipment.


You can buy medicated treatment from a drugstore without a prescription. (Talk to a doctor or pharmacist if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.) Follow the instructions that come with the medication very carefully.

Apply the lotion on every hairy part of your body except your head. (Speak with a doctor before applying cream to your eyebrows, eyelashes, moustache or beard.)

You will likely need only one treatment. If you still have symptoms, use the treatment one more time in the same week. Don’t apply the cream more than two times in one week.

Put on freshly washed, clean clothing after the treatment and again after showering the lotion off.

  • On the same day that you use the medicated treatment, wash clothing, bedding and towels in hot water. Place in dryer on hottest cycle for 20 minutes. Dry clean anything that cannot be washed or pack loosely in a sealed plastic bag for 1 week.
  • Put articles in a non-food freezer for 24 hours to kill the lice.
  • Vacuum and spray mattresses and pillows with a household disinfectant.
  • Vacuum rugs, bed and furniture.

! Your sexual contact(s) or anyone who has shared your bed, towels or clothing in the last month should be treated at the same time. Avoid sexual contact until you are both treated and have no symptoms. You should also consider testing for other sexually transmitted infections.



While pubic lice are easy to treat, you can become re-infected. There is no permanent prevention.  With a second infestation the symptoms appear more quickly. You would probably begin to feel itchy within a few hours.

On the same day you begin treatment:

  • Avoid exchanging clothes with others.
  • Sleep in a clean bed.
  • Wash all of your clothes, towels and linens.

    • Put any clothes, towels or linens which have come in direct contact with your skin through a hot cycle in the washing machine. (You don’t need to treat overcoats, winter jackets or hats.)
    • Dry the items in a dryer on the hottest cycle for about 20 minutes.
    • Dry clean anything that can not be washed or pack loosely in a sealed plastic bag for 2 weeks.
    • Make sure that no one uses your towels or linens, etc. until these items have been washed and dried properly.
  • Practice hygiene.

    • Wash your hands often.
    • Bathe or shower daily.
    • Wear clean clothes.
  • Disinfect your home.

    • Vacuum and spray mattresses and pillows with a household disinfectant.
    • Vacuum rugs, bed and furniture.
  • Make sure others are treated.

    • Make sure that your sexual partner(s) or anyone who has shared your bed, towels or clothing is treated at the same time as you are treated..

More Pubic Lice Facts

  • Like other parasites, pubic lice depend on their "host" for survival. Their only source of nourishment is human blood.
  • Pubic lice feed frequently and for lengthy periods of time (35 to 45 minutes). During this period they swell up and change to a deep rust colour, which makes them easier to see.
  • Heat (30 degrees C) is also important to their survival. Pubic lice will leave to seek a new host if the temperature of their environment rises or drops significantly.
  • Pubic lice are flat-backed, wingless, and grey-white or reddish-brown in colour.

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Revised: Thursday March 10 2016

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