Pubic lice (sometimes called crabs) are tiny insects that live on coarse human body hair, such as pubic hair.
As well as being found in pubic hair, the lice are also sometimes found in:
• underarm and leg hair
• hair on the chest, abdomen and back
• facial hair, such as beards and moustaches
• eyelashes and eyebrows (very occasionally)
Unlike head lice, pubic lice don’t live in scalp hair. Pubic lice are spread through close bodily contact, most commonly sexual contact.
Symptoms of pubic lice
After getting pubic lice, it can take several weeks before any symptoms appear.
Symptoms are the same for men and women, and include:
• itching in the affected areas, especially at night
• inflammation and irritation caused by scratching
• black powder in your underwear
• blue spots or small spots of blood on your skin, such as on your thighs or lower abdomen (caused by lice bites)
Itching is the most common symptom of pubic lice and is an allergic reaction to their saliva.
The itching is usually worse at night because that’s when the lice are most active.
What do pubic lice look like?
Adult pubic lice are very small (2mm long) and aren’t easy to see. They’re a yellow-grey or dusky red colour and have 6 legs.
Pubic lice are sometimes known as crabs because they have 2 large front legs that look like the claws of a crab. These are used to hold onto the base of hairs.
The lice lay their eggs (nits) in sacs that are stuck firmly to hairs and are a pale brownish colour. When the eggs hatch, the empty egg sacs are white.
Although pubic lice and lice eggs are small and difficult to see, they may be visible in coarse hair anywhere on your body (apart from hair on your head).