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Alternative namesPediculosis - pubic lice; Lice - pubic; Crabs
DefinitionPubic lice are small, six-legged creatures that invade the genital hair region and infest it with their eggs. These lice can also infest armpit hair and eyebrows, but they are drawn to the pubic region.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Pubic lice are known scientifically as Phthirus pubis. Lice infestation is a common sexually-transmitted condition and is found mostly in adolescents. Transmission generally occurs during sexual activity, but it can occur through physical contact with contaminated objects or clothing such as toilet seats, sheets, and blankets. Some women have acquired it while trying on swimming suits at the store.
Sometimes the bite can cause an inflammatory skin reaction that is bluish gray in color. Although the lice do not cause a rash , the constant scratching and digging can cause the skin to become raw, and secondary infections can develop.
Although pubic lice appear to prefer the pubic area, they can also thrive on the eyelashes. In young children, pubic lice may be a cause of blepharitis (an eye infection) and their eyelashes should be examined with a high-powered magnifying glass for evidence of lice.
Signs and tests
An examination of the external genital region typically reveals small gray-white oval eggs (nits) attached to the hair shaft and may reveal adult lice. Scratch marks or signs of secondary infection such as impetigo may also be noted.
Adult lice may be easily identified under the microscope. Their crab-like appearance is the reason that pubic lice are referred to as "having the crabs."
Pubic lice are best treated with a prescription wash such as Elimite or Kwell:
A single treatment is all that is usually needed. If another treatment is recommended, it should be done 4 days to 1 week later.
At the time of treatment, wash all clothing and linens in hot water. Items that cannot be washed may be sprayed with a medicated spray or sealed (suffocated) in plastic bags and not used for 10 to 14 days. It is imperative for all sexual contacts to be treated at the same time.
Expectations (prognosis)Adequate treatment, including environmental cleaning, should eradicate the lice.
ComplicationsSecondary infections may occur because of skin break-down from frequent scratching.
Calling your health care providerCall for an appointment with your health care provider if you or your sexual partner have symptoms of pubic lice. If you know that itching is caused by pubic lice, you can try over-the-counter lice treatments, and then call the health care provider if these are ineffective. Also call if symptoms persist after treatment.
Avoid sexual or intimate contact with infected people. If sexually active, use safe sex behaviors to avoid getting lice.
Good personal hygiene is always recommended. If possible, avoid trying on bathing suits. However, if you must, be sure to wear your underwear while trying them on. This may prevent transmission.
Update Date: 4/15/2003Michael Lehrer, M.D., Department of Dermatology, University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT