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Planned Parenthood

Pubic Lice (Crabs)

Pubic Lice at a Glance

  • Often called "crabs"
  • Common symptoms include intense itching
  • Treatment is available
  • Easily spread through close contact

We all want to protect ourselves and each other from infections like pubic lice. Learning more about pubic lice is an important first step.

Here are some of the most common questions we hear people ask about pubic lice. We hope you find the answers helpful, whether you think you may have pubic lice, have been diagnosed with it, or are just curious about it.

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What Are Pubic Lice?

You may have heard of pubic lice, but many people are not sure what they are. Pubic lice are tiny insects that attach themselves to the skin and hair in the pubic area. They are also called "crabs."

Every year, millions of people get pubic lice.

What Are the Symptoms of Pubic Lice?

People do not usually get any symptoms until having pubic lice for about five days. Some people never get symptoms. When symptoms do appear, they may include

  • intense itching in the genitals or anus
  • mild fever
  • feeling run-down
  • irritability
  • the presence of lice or small egg sacs, which are called nits, in pubic hair

How Can I Know If I Have Pubic Lice?

People often diagnose themselves with pubic lice. You can also see your health care provider. If you look for pubic lice with your naked eye or with a magnifying glass, they look like tiny crabs. They are pale gray but darken in color when swollen with blood. They attach themselves and their eggs to pubic hair, underarm hair, eyelashes, and eyebrows. Their eggs are white and are found in small clumps near the hair roots.

Is There a Treatment for Pubic Lice?

Yes, treatment is available. Some common brands of over-the-counter pubic lice medicine are A-200, RID, and Nix. Follow the directions on the package insert of the medication. You may need to apply the medicine from head-to-toe more than once.

Stronger prescription medicines are also available — ask your health care provider about them.

Shaving, hot baths, or other "home remedies" will not work.

Pregnant women, breastfeeding women, and infants must use products specially designed for them.

Everyone who may have been exposed to pubic lice should be treated at the same time. That way they can avoid becoming infected again.

All bedding, towels, and clothing that may have been exposed should be thoroughly washed or dry cleaned, and your home should be vacuumed.

Where Can I Get a Test or Treatment for Pubic Lice?

Women and men can usually diagnose themselves, but a health care provider can also help. Staff at your local Planned Parenthood health center, many other clinics, health departments, and private health care providers can diagnose pubic lice and help you get any treatment you may need. 

Medicine is available without a prescription from many drugstores. If further treatment is necessary, your health care provider can give you a prescription for a stronger medicine.

How Are Pubic Lice Spread?

Pubic lice are very easily spread during sex. Sometimes they are spread through other kinds of close physical contact. Very rarely, they are spread from contact with infected bedding, clothing, upholstered furniture, and toilet seats.

How Can I Prevent Getting or Spreading Pubic Lice?

Pubic lice are easily spread, and there is no protection. The only thing that can reduce your risk of getting pubic lice is limiting the number of people with whom you have intimate or sexual contact. If you or your partner has pubic lice, do not have sex again until treatment is complete.

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Pubic Lice (Crabs)