Pubic lice are very small, crab-like insects which live in pubic hair, underarm hair, hairy legs and chests and sometimes in the eyebrows or facial hair- but not in hair of the head.

Public lice are not necessarily sexually transmitted, but are passed on through close body contact.

Signs and symptoms of pubic lice

You may not notice that you have pubic lice, but people usually experience the following symptoms:

  • Itching in the affected areas.
  • Irritated skin from the itching.
  • Sky-blue spots or specks of blood on the skin from where the lice have bitten you.
  • Black powder in your underwear , caused by lice droppings
  • Brown eggs on pubic or other boy hair.

The causes and how its passed on

They can be spread by having close body contact with someone who has them and will crawl from hair to hair. They can also be spread through close body contact including vaginal, anal, or oral sex and they may be passed on by sharing towels and bed linen.

Pubic lice cannot transmit HIV or other STI's.

Condoms and other forms of contraception will not protect you from pubic lice.

If you get them, you can prevent them being passed onto others by:

  • washing bedding, towels and clothes on a 50 degree wash -which kill the lice and their eggs.
  • ensure anyone who you have had close contact with is treated. This includes sexual partners from the last 3 months and everyone in your household.

Testing for pubic lice

If you think you may have pubic lice, you will need to visit a GUM, or sexual health clinic, or your local GP surgery.

There is no test for pubic lice but its easy for a health professional to diagnose by examining the areas. They will be looking for the lice and their eggs.

Treatment of pubic lice

Treatment can be done at home using an insecticide cream, lotion or shampoo. This treatment can be a prescription or over the counter at a pharmacy.

In most cases the treatment is applied to the affected areas. Some have to be applied to the whole body and some have to be repeated. You can treat pubic lice if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, but do let your doctor, nurse or pharmacist know.

Avoid having close body contact until you and your partner have completed treatment. This includes any sexual activity.

If left untreated the lice may spread to other parts of the body. Pubic lice will not go away without treatment.

Shaving off pubic hair will not get rid of the lice.