Pubic Lice

Overview

Pubic Lice, commonly known as ‘crabs’, are small parasitic insects which live on coarse body hair such as pubic hair. They can also be found in underarm hair, leg hair, chest hair, stomach hair, back hair, moustache, beard hair, and less commonly on eyelash and eyebrow hairs. They cannot live in scalp hair. Adult lice have six legs, are around 2mm long, and are usually yellow-grey or dusky red making them very difficult to see. They lay pale brown eggs in sacs which are attached to hairs. Once the eggs have hatched the sacs are white. Pubic lice are passed through close bodily contact, such as sexual contact.

Causes of Pubic Lice

Pubic lice are caused by close bodily contact with a person who already has public lice. They crawl from hair to hair but cannot jump or fly. They are most commonly passed through sexual contact, however they can also be passed through other close contact such as hugging. Although possible, it is unlikely that pubic lice can be passed through sharing clothes, towels, and bedding as they will only leave the body for short periods of time to crawl from one person to the next and cannot survive without human blood for long. Following treatment pubic lice can reoccur if you have not had a second treatment after three or seven days, as the first may not kill all of the eggs. Unfortunately having good personal hygiene, or using condoms and other barrier methods of contraception, such as dental dams, cannot protect you from pubic lice.

Symptoms of Pubic Lice

Symptoms may not appear for several weeks after you have caught pubic lice. Once they do present symptoms include itching in the infected area caused by an allergic reaction to their saliva, inflammation caused by scratching, blue spots or tiny spots of blood on the skin caused by bites, and black powder-like droppings in your underwear.

Treatment for Pubic Lice

Pubic lice can be treated at home by applying an insecticide shampoo, cream, or lotion. These are often applied to the whole body (excluding the eyes), but are sometimes only applied to the infected area. It is advised that you trim your pubic hair before using the insecticide treatment, as this will increase the effectiveness of the treatment. Remember to sanitize your razor or beard trimmer afterward! You will need to reapply the insecticide treatment after three to seven days to prevent a re-infestation. Your GP or Pharmacist will be able to advise you about which treatment you should use. Some lice can become resistant to certain treatments, in this case the first treatment you try may not work and you will need your GP or a Pharmacist to recommend an alternative.

Is there anything I can do to ease my discomfort?

Do not shave your pubic hair off! The pubic lice will crawl into where you hair grows and lay more eggs, so whilst you may temporarily remove some of the lice – when your pubic hair grows back, the crabs will return, and in greater number. 

Also if you must scratch yourself, please cut your fingernails before doing so! If you break your skin by scratching, the parasites can enter your body through the broken skin and cause another infection. Remember to wash your hands (and underneath your fingernails) with warm water and preferably antiseptic soap to make sure that you don’t spread the pubic lice to other parts of your body.

You can relieve itching by having a bath with oatmeal, milk or aloe vera. After bathing you can use baby power or camomile lotion on the infected area to soothe the itch.  Sometimes using antihistamines can also help reduce the itchiness.

How I do stop the spread of pubic lice?

Get those whom you have had close physical contact with or have shared a bed with recently to check themselves for crabs. Wash clothes, bedding or towels that you or the person who has crabs have used in the two days before getting treated. Dry-clean items that can’t be washed or store in a plastic bag for two weeks (the pubic lice will die without a host to infect).

Scabies

Overview

Scabies is not an infection, but an infestation of tiny mites on the outer layers of human ski that burrow and lay eggs inside the skin. This causes relentless itching and an angry rash.

Causes of Scabies

The mites that cause scabies are tiny parasites, smaller than a pinhead.  They are usually picked up by direct skin-to-skin contact with someone who already has scabies, and only very rarely from objects such as clothing or bedding.  Pets do not spread them. Having poor personal hygiene does not cause scabies.

Symptoms of Scabies

First symptom you may notice is an intense itchiness, especially at night. Followed by a rash which can appear anywhere, but often starts between the fingers. Initially tiny mites lay eggs in the skin leaving silvery lines with a dot at the end, the rash then spreads and turns into tiny red dots. It can take up to eight weeks for the rash to appear even if you’ve been infected!

Treatment for Scabies

A pharmacist will recommend a type of cream or lotion that you must apply over your whole body,  you’ll need to repeat this treatment a week later too. Everyone in the household (even if they don’t have symptoms yet) will have to be treated at the exact same time. Anyone you’ve had sex with in the last eight weeks must be treated also!

Is there anything I can do to ease my discomfort?

To reduce the itch you can: use an antihistamine, shower with cold or lukewarm water (instead of hot), bathe with oatmeal or baking soda, wear loose fitting clothing, stay cool and drink plenty of water.

How I do stop the spread of pubic lice?

Wash all bedding and clothing in the house at high heat (at least 50C) on the first day of treatment. If there’s any bedding or clothing that you can’t wash put these in a sealed bag for three days until the mites die. Don’t have close physical contact or sex until you’ve completed both treatments. Don’t share bedding, clothes or towels with someone who has scabies. Don’t go into your workplace or school for twenty four hours after your first treatment.