Pubic lice (crabs)
Pubic lice (crabs)
Pubic lice, commonly called crabs, are tiny insects found in your genital area. They are a different type of louse from head lice and body lice. Measuring 1/16 inch (1.6 millimeters) or less, pubic lice received their nickname because their bodies resemble sea crabs.
The most common way to acquire pubic lice is through sexual intercourse. In children, pubic lice may be found in the eyebrows or eyelashes and can be a sign of sexual abuse. However, children can sometimes catch pubic lice from heavily infested parents simply by sharing a communal bed.
Pubic lice feed on your blood, and their bites can cause severe itching. Treatment includes applying over-the-counter creams and lotions that kill the parasites and their eggs.
If you have pubic lice (crabs), you may experience intense itching in your genital region. Pubic lice don't infest the scalp, but they can spread to other areas with coarse body hair, including the:
When to see a doctor
Pubic lice are most commonly transmitted during sexual activity. Although it's unusual, you may also acquire pubic lice from contaminated sheets, blankets, towels or clothes.
People who have other sexually transmitted infections are more likely to also have pubic lice.
Pubic lice infestations can usually be treated with a louse-killing lotion or gel. However, a pubic lice infestation sometimes leads to complications such as:
Preparing for your appointment
If you can't get rid of pubic lice on your own, you may need to talk to your family doctor.
What you can do
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
You or your doctor can usually confirm a pubic lice infestation through a visual examination of your pubic area. The presence of moving lice confirms infestation.
Lice eggs (nits) also may indicate an infestation. However, nits can cling to hairs and be present, although no longer alive, even after successful treatment.
Treatments and drugs
If over-the-counter lotions or shampoos (Nix, Rid, others) don't kill your pubic lice, your doctor may prescribe stronger treatments, such as:
Lifestyle and home remedies
You can get rid of pubic lice with a patient, thorough approach that involves cleaning yourself and any personal belongings that may be contaminated.
These steps may help you eliminate lice infestations:
To prevent pubic lice infestation, avoid having sexual contact or sharing bedding or clothing with anyone who has an infestation. If you are being treated for pubic lice, all sexual partners must also be treated.
Last Updated: 2012-12-14
© 1998-2014 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). All rights reserved. A single copy of these materials may be reprinted for noncommercial personal use only. "Mayo," "Mayo Clinic," "MayoClinic.com," "Mayo Clinic Health Information," "Reliable information for a healthier life" and the triple-shield Mayo logo are trademarks of Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.
Terms and conditions of use