​​​What are pubic lice?

Pubic lice (phthirus pubis), also known as crabs, are tiny blood-sucking insects. They live in coarse human body hair, most commonly pubic hair, and cause itching and red spots.​​​

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What are the signs & symptoms of pubic lice?

​​​Pubic lice are shaped like tiny crabs, about 1mm long. They lay eggs, (also called “nits”) which are glued to individual hairs. Lice do not like light and will move away from it or keep still in the light.

Some people may have no symptoms and not know the lice are there. Others notice itch a few days after pubic lice bites occur. The skin becomes red and irritated where scratched.

Small blue spots may appear in the skin as a result of the bites, which last for several days.

Dark red faeces can sometimes be seen on the skin.

How are pubic lice passed on?

Both men and women can catch pubic lice. They are passed on through close body contact or sex. In some cases pubic lice have been caught from toilet seats, beds or other shared objects like towels or clothes.

​Pubic Lice can survive up to 24hours away from the human body. They cannot fly or jump.

How do I get tested for pubic lice?

​​​The doctor or nurse will check the pubic hair for lice and nits, and may take a louse or nit to look at under a microscope to confirm the diagnosis.

​​​If you have caught pubic lice you may also be at risk of other STIs so it is advisable to have a check up for other STIs and HIV.

What is the treatment for pubic lice? How effective is it?

​​There are several treatments for pubic lice. The aim of treatment is to kill both adult lice and eggs. Sometimes this requires repeated treatments.

​​Treatments include permethrin, malathion and pyrethrins with piperonyl butoxide.

​​These come as shampoos, creams or lotions which you apply to the skin. The doctor or pharmacist will advise you how to apply the treatment and when to repeat it.

​​You may be instructed to wash the treatment off the skin after a short while or leave it on overnight and wash it off the next morning.

​​​Pubic lice in the eyelashes can be treated by putting petroleum jelly (e.g. Vaseline) on the eyelashes twice a day for 10 days.


We have attempted to provide full, accurate and up to date information in this patient information leaflet, based on current medical evidence and opinion. However, information and advice may vary from different sources, and over time. If you have any further questions, see your doctor or healthcare provider.​

Find out more through this Patient Information Leaflet.​​

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