Pubic lice – often called ‘crabs’ – are very common. They are small crab-shaped insects the size of a pin head when fully grown.
They’re easy to get and live on body hair and feed on blood (but they cannot pass on HIV).
They live on pubic hair, underarm hair, hairy legs and chests and sometimes in eyebrows or facial hair – but not in hair on the head.
It is possible to have pubic lice without noticing, but two to three weeks after getting them they will usually make you itch, especially at night.
You might see a rash. If you have just been infected you probably won’t see them but as they grow they often become visible.
How they are passed on
Pubic lice are passed on by body contact during sex. However if someone becomes infected it doesn’t always mean they’ve had sex with someone else, as lice can spread on towels, clothes and bedding (although this isn’t common).
Unfortunately there is no way of stopping yourself getting pubic lice. If you get them, you can stop them spreading to others by washing bedding, towels and clothes on a hot wash (which will kill the lice and their eggs) and making sure anyone who’s shared your bed, towels or clothes is treated.
Leather clothing can be dry cleaned or left in a plastic bag for two weeks.
Tests and treatment
You don’t need to go to a clinic or see a doctor. You can treat yourself at home with creams bought without a prescription from the chemist, such as Lyclear or Derbac.
You apply the lotion over your whole body (except for your head and face) and leave it on for 24 hours. If it doesn’t work ask a clinic for advice.
Shaving off pubic hair will not get rid of the lice.
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