Pubic Lice Myths

You may or may not have heard of pubic lice, but you've almost certainly heard of "crabs". Human pubic lice, Pthirus pubis, are most commonly called crab lice or simply "crabs".

Most people don't know much about pubic lice (most likely the result of the infestation's scandalous nature) or what they do know is skewed by rumor. This article is meant to dispel the many crab lice myths that have developed over the last few decades.

Myth #1: You can only get crabs by having sex with an infected person.

While sexual contact is the most common way of contracting pubic lice, it can be spread other ways as well. Lice can be spread on shared bath towels, clothing, and bed linens. Children can get pubic lice, usually on the eyebrows since they lack pubic hair, by sharing a bed with an infected parent.

Myth #2: Pubic lice feed on pubic hair.

They actually feed on blood, causing irritated papules where they bite the skin around the base of hair follicles. In fact, pubic lice can survive only on blood, not skin flakes, hair, etc. Fortunately, this greatly limits their ability to live very long off their human hosts, inhibiting their transmission.

Myth #3: Pubic lice can be transmitted by toilet seats, carpets, and furniture.

No. While I would be wrong to consider such transmission impossible, it is highly unlikely. Pubic lice aren't exactly nimble creatures. They cannot jump like fleas and they aren't very good crawlers, either. They have 6 burly legs that are really only good at one thing: grasping. Toilet seats, while high-traffic areas of bare bottoms, are very slippery and unlikely to host a louse for any significant period of time. And while they could hold onto the fibers of carpets and furniture, they cannot live very long without the blood of a human host and will likely perish before another scantily clad individual encounters the infested carpet or furniture.

Myth #4: Pubic lice are just like any other lice.

Pubic lice are actually very unique. They are much more round and squat than head or body lice. They are slower than many other lice species and lay brown eggs in contrast to the whitish eggs of hair and body lice.

Myth #5: Pubic lice will go away eventually, even if untreated.

Although not an impossibility for pubic lice to go away on their own, it is unlikely. Humans are the only host of the Pthirus pubis louse species, and as such this louse has become very well adapted to living on humans. And while the small irritated papules of a lice infestation may seem relatively harmless, remember that itching is one of the best ways to spread bacteria. Itching tears and destroys skin, leaving louse-infested areas vulnerable to more serious secondary infections.

Myth #6: Pubic lice are only found in the hair of the groin.

Nope; they've also been found on the hair of the anus, abdomen, armpits, and facial hair such as beards, eyebrows and eyelashes.

Myth #7: Humans got pubic lice over 3 million years ago by having sex with gorillas.

Recent studies have shown that the human pubic louse and the gorilla pubic louse once shared a common ancestor after the deviation of the human and gorilla primate species. This suggests that humans first became infected from contact with lice-infested gorillas. And while the pubic louse is best transmitted via sexual contact, it is much more likely that humans contracted lice from gorillas by sleeping in their recently abandoned nests or while skinning them for eating.

Be sure to familiarize yourself with pubic lice treatments, as well. An actual infestation isn't very harmful, but can and should be taken care of before chances of secondary infection increase from an extended infestation.


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