Center for Young Women's Health

Pubic Lice ("Crabs")



  • Pubic lice (crabs) are tiny insects (the size of a pinhead) that infect hairy parts of the body and cause itching.
  • Pubic lice are usually spread with sexual contact or infected sheets, towels, or clothes.
  • If you have itching in your pubic area, see your health care provider and get treated.
  • If you have pubic lice, you should also get checked for other sexually transmitted infections.

What are pubic lice?

Pubic lice are tiny, round wingless insects that live on the skin. They're also called crabs because they have "claws", which they use to hang on to hair. They're light brown and the size of a pinhead. Pubic lice feed on the blood of a human; however, they can live up to 24 hours away from the person. Crabs infect hairy parts of the body, especially around the pubic area but they can also be found in eyebrow, armpit, mustache, or beard hair. They can be very hard to see because they are tiny. If you do see them, you will notice that look like small scabs. A female louse can lay up to 26 eggs (also called nits) over 3-4 weeks' time. The eggs then take about 8 days to hatch. The nits look like little white dots that are close to the hair root.


Am I at risk for getting pubic lice?

Anyone can get pubic lice. However, people with more sex partners have a greater risk of getting infected with pubic lice.


What are the signs and symptoms of pubic lice?

If you have pubic lice, you may not have any symptoms. If you do get symptoms, they usually start 5 days to several weeks after getting the lice. You may get lots of itching around your pubic hair or genital area. The itching is because of an allergic reaction to the bites. If you scratch a lot, you are at risk of getting a skin infection.


How are pubic lice diagnosed?

Pubic lice are diagnosed by a health care provider (HCP) who can carefully look at the infected area and prescribe medicine. It's important to see your HCP because pubic lice can be confused with other skin problems. Also, you should be tested for other sexually transmitted infections.


How are pubic lice ("crabs") treated?

There are several options for treatment that you can talk about with your health care provider. These include special creams, lotions, or shampoos that you can buy in a drug store, as well as prescription lice medicines. Things to know about treatment include:

How can I prevent spreading pubic lice?

If you have pubic lice:

How can I avoid getting pubic lice?

You have a much lower chance of getting pubic lice if you have only one sex partner. Condoms do not stop pubic lice. Try not to use other people's clothing or bed sheets. As soon as you think you have pubic lice, see your HCP and get treated!


Written and reviewed by the CYWH Staff at Boston Children's Hospital


Updated: 9/21/2012


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