Pubic lice, a sexually transmitted parasite that feeds off human blood, can be hard to identify right away. In fact, it's common not to notice an infection for up to a month! However, pubic lice can also multiply quickly, meaning that a delayed response can result in a severe and painful infestation.
The pubic louse is a tiny, grey or tan creature. They are frequently referred to in slang as "crabs" or "crab lice" given their physical resemblance to a sea crab, as the front two of their six total legs are shaped like pincher claws. The claws are used to grip the hair shafts of the infected area during feeding or movement. Pubic lice have a broad, round shape, antennae, and mouth parts to facilitate biting and sucking.
Signs and Symptoms
Pubic lice are almost always found in the pubic area, but can occasionally take root in other hair, such as arms, legs, or facial hair. They are only found on human hosts, as animal blood will not nourish them, and if detached from a human will survive no more than two days.
The first sign of an infection is usually an uncomfortable, persistent itching in the infected area. Inflammation may also occur if the skin suffers a reaction to either the louse's bite or saliva. Itching tends to only make the inflammation worse and may help spread the lice to other areas of the body. Itching may be more intense at nighttime, when the lice are more inclined to physical activity and feeding.
When the itching area is inspected, a victim of pubic lice will find living lice, eggs or both. The egg of a louse is commonly called a "nit." Nits are small, light-colored and found "glued" to hair shafts. A female louse typically lays up to thirty individual eggs in her lifetime.
Nits take around one week to hatch, and freshly-hatched lice (called nymphs) generally take another week to mature. A mature, adult female louse will soon begin laying her own nits, and in this manner, the infection can escalate rapidly.
Pubic lice are contracted during sexual activity with an infected partner. Close contact, such as during intercourse, is one of the only ways lice can be transferred. Pubic lice can only live for two days at the very most without being attached to a host, meaning that it's very difficult to get lice from inanimate objects. Lice can be transmitted via the shared use of towels, clothing or bedding within a narrow time window, or by sleeping next to a person who has lice, even if no sexual contact occurs.
Both pubic and head lice are treated with the use of a special shampoo, and by carefully combing through infected hair to remove remaining lice and nits. The shampoo can be purchased without a prescription, but due to harsh chemical content in some shampoos, it is important to choose one that will not harm the pubic area.