WHAT ARE THEY?
Pubic lice are tiny crab-like insects that live in pubic hair. They can also be found in chest, armpit, and facial hair, as well as eyebrows and eyelashes. The adult insects bite and feed on the blood of the host and lay small eggs, called nits, which attach to the hair shaft.
HOW WOULD I GET THEM?
Public lice are typically passed through intimate sexual and non-sexual contact. However, pubic lice can live for 1 to 2 days in the bedding, towels, and clothes of an infected individual, so these items may become a source of transmission. It is unlikely that pubic lice can be spread through toilet seats because the insects’ feet are not designed to walk on or hold on to smooth surfaces.
HOW WOULD I KNOW I HAD THEM?
The most common symptom of pubic lice is severe and constant itching in the pubic area. This usually develops within 5 days of infection. An infected individual may also develop blue spots where they were bitten, or find tiny black particles (lice feces) in their underwear.
A doctor can usually diagnose pubic lice from a visual inspection. They may also send a skin sample to the lab for confirmation of infection.
CAN THEY BE TREATED AND CURED?
Yes. A pubic lice infection is treated through special lotions and shampoos that are available from the pharmacy. It is also very important that a person infected with pubic lice cleans anything that might have lice on it, such as clothes, bedding, and towels. These items need to be washed in very hot water or tied up in a plastic bag for two weeks to prevent the lice from spreading. If there are any items that cannot be washed or bagged, they should be vacuumed.
All sexual partners who have had contact with the infected person in the month before the diagnosis should be treated to help prevent reinfestation.
IF THEY AREN’T TREATED, CAN THEY LEAD TO MORE SERIOUS PROBLEMS?
Persistent scratching of irritated skin can cause a secondary bacterial infection.