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Pubic Lice

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jan 5, 2023.

What are pubic lice?

Pubic lice, or crabs, are tiny bugs that live on blood in your genital area. They are tan, gray, or brown, and are about the size of a sesame seed. They lay eggs (nits) and attach the eggs to body hair. Pubic lice are spread through direct contact. For example, sharing clothing or bedding with someone who has lice. You can also get lice if you have sex with someone who has lice.

What are the signs and symptoms of pubic lice?

  • Severe itching that may be worse at night
  • Red marks or swollen areas near the hair strands
  • Small bumps on your genital area

How are pubic lice diagnosed and treated?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your signs and symptoms and examine you. Lice medicine is used to kill pubic lice and is available without a doctor's order. Lice medicine usually comes as a lotion or cream. Use it as directed. You may need to apply the medicine to hair on your chest, underarms, and groin. Throw away all lice medicine that you do not use. Keep it away from your eyes. Other medicines may also be given to decrease itching and inflammation.

How can I manage my pubic lice?

  • Comb out lice with a fine tooth comb. This will remove the lice and eggs. Do this once a day until all lice and eggs are gone.
  • Wash all clothes, towels, and bedding in hot, soapy water. Dry them on the hot cycle for at least 20 minutes. Items that cannot be washed or dry cleaned should be sealed in an airtight plastic bag for 2 weeks. Do not share towels and sheets with others. Vacuum furniture, rugs, carpets, car seats, or other fabrics.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

How can I prevent the spread of pubic lice?

  • Tell sexual partners about your pubic lice so they can also be screened and treated. Limit the number of sexual partners. Shaving pubic hair and using condoms does not prevent the spread of pubic lice.
  • Do not have close body contact with anyone until all your lice are gone.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You have a fever.
  • Your pubic lice do not go away, even after treatment.
  • The lice bites become crusty or filled with pus, or your skin has a bad smell.
  • Your skin burns, stings, swells, or is numb after you use lice medicine.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Learn more about Pubic Lice

Treatment options

Symptoms and treatments

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.