Straight, No Chaser: Pubic Lice (Crabs)

Unfortunately, there’s no pleasant way around this topic. I hope you’re not crabby.


There is a story of legend in the medical community regarding the trends to start waxing or shaving pubic hair. It involves crabs (pubic lice). Back in the 1920s, when the clear preference for appearance involved a full “bush,” this was often accompanied with the frequent presence of pubic lice, particularly in the brothels of Las Vegas. Women took to shaving in an effort to relieve themselves from the presence of the lice. However, the newly shaved appearance apparently wasn’t good for business; as a result, these women began wearing pubic toupees.
So why am I telling this story? The toupees were made of beaver hair. That’s the origin of that terminology, in case you didn’t know. On to common questions about pubic lice.


What are pubic lice? Pubic lice (aka crabs) a parasitic insects found in the genital and pubic areas of humans.


Where are pubic lice found? By definition, pubic lice are predominantly found in the genital and pubic areas in one’s hair. However, pubic lice have also been found in other areas of the body with coarse hair, such as the armpits, beard, eyebrows, eyelashes, legs and mustache. In fact, pubic lice on the eyebrows or eyelashes of children are regarded as a prompt to search for sexual abuse. It also is of note that lice on the scalp are head lice, which is a different consideration than pubic lice.
Whom do pubic lice infect? Anyone and everyone seem to be affected. Pubic lice are seen all over the world across all races, classes and ethnicities. Public lice are not seen in animals. Pubic lice are most commonly seen in adults, are considered to be a sexually transmitted disease (infection, aka STD or STI) and should prompt a search for other STDs. There have been occasional cases of spread through contact with articles such as bed linens, clothing or towels, but this is extremely rare. Lice can’t live away from the warmth of a human body very long, and their feet don’t allow for walking on or attaching to smooth surfaces, so they generally are limited to staying on their hosts.
Can I get public lice by sitting on a toilet? This commonly expressed concern is quite overstated. As noted, lice can’t live away from the warmth of a human body very long, and their feet don’t allow for walking on or attaching to smooth surfaces, so they generally are limited to staying on their hosts.


What do pubic lice look like? Pubic lice have three forms: the egg (also called a nit), the nymph, and the adult.

  • Nit: Nits are lice eggs. When seen, they are usually found firmly attached to the hair shaft. They are oval and usually yellow to white. Pubic nits hatch in about 6–10 days.
  • Nymph: The nymph is a young, immature louse that just hatched from the nit. Pubic lice nymphs take about 2–3 weeks after hatching to mature into adults capable of reproducing. To live, a nymph must feed on blood.
  • Adult: The adult pubic louse resembles a miniature crab. Pubic lice have six legs; their two front legs are very large and look like the pincher claws of a crab. Pubic lice are tan to grayish-white in color. Females are usually larger than males. In can’t you’re thinking that doesn’t matter to those infected, it should because females lay eggs, continuing the cycle that causes human discomfort. To live, lice must feed on blood. If the louse falls off a person, it dies within 1–2 days. 

What are the signs and symptoms of pubic lice? The symptoms of pubic lice infestation include genital itching, visible lice eggs (nits) or visible crawling lice.
How is a pubic lice infestation diagnosed? The diagnosis of pubic lice is simply made by visualizing a louse or nit (egg) in the pubic hair or elsewhere. It is more common to need a magnifying glass to identify lice or eggs.
How are pubic lice treated? We will go into the treatment of pubic lice in some detail in an additional Straight, No Chaser. It’s too important to simply give a quick answer on this.

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