Pubic Lice Facts

March 10, 2010

Statistics suggest that 3 million people undergo treatment for pubic lice every year in the United States. Some people call pubic lice, "crabs." The condition is caused by very small insects who live in pubic hair. These lice feed on human blood. The medical name for pubic lice is pediculosis pubis. The type of lice that is found on the body or in the hair is a different type than that found in the pubic hair.

Sexual Contact

While we know how many people undergo treatment for pubic lice on an annual basis, experts don't really know how many people have the condition at a given point. An infestation with pubic lice often occurs through sexual contact, though transmission is possible without benefit of genital contact or sex. Sometimes people get pubic lice from shared clothing, towels, or bed linens. This is due to the fact that the lice can live away from their human hosts for up to 24 hours. Because lice are not made in such a way as to be able to grab hold of a smooth surface, contracting pubic lice from a toilet seat would be unlikely.

The major symptom of pubic lice is intense itching in the genital area. The itching is a kind of allergic reaction to the saliva of the lice as they bite the flesh. The reaction takes 5 days to occur after an infestation. There may be blue spots in areas that have sustained bites. Scratching the bites is ill-advised, as this can spread the infection to other areas of the body that have coarse hair, such as the chest, eyelashes and brows, beard, mustache, armpits, or legs.

Microscopic Examination

It can be hard for a person to check the genitals for infection. A small hand mirror may be helpful. But in general, the condition is diagnosed through the examination of a biopsy or skin scraping under a microscope.

We are fortunate to have many products on the market that will kill pubic lice. You can buy shampoos and lotions at any pharmacy. But some of the active ingredients in these products are not safe for pregnant or breast-feeding women, or for young children. Ask your physician if you're not sure.

It's also important to launder any items that may have made contact with the lice. Clothing, towels, and bedding should be washed in hot water. In the event that an item is not washable, placing it in a sealed plastic bag for a period of 2 weeks should be sufficient to kill the lice.

Calamine Lotion

The itching may continue even after the lice are dead since the skin still needs time to heal from the allergic reaction. During this time, calamine lotion may help soothe the itching.

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