A pubic lice (also referred to as “crabs”) infestation is classed as a sexually transmitted disease (STD) because these lice are passed from person to person (usually) through sexual contact. It is possible, however, for someone who has pubic lice to infect others if they share clothing, bed clothing or towels with other people. Pubic lice live in the hair in the genital area. This means that if you have sex with someone who has pubic lice, you have a 90 % chance of catching the lice yourself. Using a condom won’t necessarily protect you against this STD, because condoms won’t stop your and your partner’s pubic hair coming into contact. You can reduce your chances of becoming infected with this STD by limiting your number of sexual partners and conducting monogamous sexual relationships. Shaving off your pubic hair won’t necessarily protect you against catching pubic lice from someone else.
Symptoms of a public lice infestation include:
Itching (caused by an allergic reaction to the lice’s saliva, or by bites).
The presence of lice and lice eggs in the pubic hair (lice eggs are small, white or creamy-colored buds which look a bit like dandruff).
Red bites on the skin (pubic lice bite the skin and feed on blood).
Pubic lice can spread to the hair on other parts of the body, in which case you’ll find these symptoms there as well as (or instead of) in the genital area. If a child becomes infested with pubic lice, the lice may settle in the child’s eyelashes, and the symptoms will therefore become apparent around the eyes. This can lead to an eye infection, so you should seek medical help right away.
Non-prescription treatment - You may not have to go to the doctor to treat pubic lice. Over-the-counter specialist shampoos are available in pharmacies. Be sure to follow the pharmacist’s instructions for applying the shampoo (particularly in the genital area). If the shampoo works for you – great, but you also need to wash all your possibly contaminated bed sheets and clothing at a high temperature, and give your house or apartment a good vacuuming. You can give the shampoo a helping hand by keeping the hair in the affected area trimmed short, combing it with a fine-toothed comb and even rinsing the hair in vinegar after you have washed out the shampoo. (Of course, be VERY careful when using vinegar in the genital area!)
Prescription treatment – if the over-the-counter shampoo doesn’t work, the doctor will be able to prescribe you something stronger:
Malathion (Ovide) is a lotion which is applied to the infested area and washed off 8 to 12 hours later. (This lotion is flammable so keep away from open flames if you don’t want to have a painful accident.)
Ivermectin (Stromectol) are pills which are usually taken in a single dose of two tablets. Another dose can be taken 10 days later if the first two pills don’t sort out the problem. These pills are not safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women, or for very small children.
Lindane is a toxic lotion which is applied to the affected area and washed off after just a few minutes. This treatment is usually prescribed as a “last resort” when other treatments have failed. Lindane may have some unpleasant side effects. This treatment is not safe for very small children or pregnant or breastfeeding women.
If you’re pregnant and you think you have public lice, go straight to the doctor. Over-the-counter shampoos are not suitable in your case, because the chemicals in them may possibly be harmful to your baby.