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What are pubic lice?

Pubic lice, also known as genital lice, or crabs because of their crab-like shape, are minute parasites found in the pubic and genital area of humans. They usually infest the pubic hair and survive by feeding on human blood. These parasites are mostly spread by sexual contact, and sometimes picked up from infested beds or clothing.

The infestation is found worldwide and knows no class, race, or gender. An estimated 3 million new cases are treated in the US each year.

The main symptom is extreme itching in the genital and pubic area, that causes frantic scratching which may even break the skin, and cause an infection.

How can pubic lice be treated?

Pubic lice are easily diagnosed because they are visible with the naked eye, and resemble minute crabs. Treatments include lotions and creams which can be purchased over-the-counter, or obtained via a doctor’s prescription. Most of these creams contain a powerful pesticide which kill the lice, although the itch may continue for a while, because the skin has been irritated and may be inflamed.

Any person that an individual has been associated with, must also be treated, especially sex partners. Bedding and clothing must thoroughly washed with a disinfectant rinse to ensure that the infestation is properly eliminated.

Fortunately, pubic lice does not cause any serious health issues, although studies have shown that up to 30% of people with genital lice, may have another sexually transmitted disease, which should be investigated.

Some common myths about pubic lice:

  • Pubic lice can be picked up from toilet seats.
    Truth. Crabs can only survive on humans. If they fall off they die within 48 hours. Also they cannot stick to a smooth service like a toilet seat.
  • Crabs are the same as head lice.
    Truth. Head lice are a different species of lice. They only infest the scalp hair, while pubic lice infest the pubic hair, and sometimes coarse underarm, chest or leg hair.
  • Only dirty people get crabs.
    Truth. Crabs are not affected by water, and many folk regularly bath, wash, or shower. Soap also has no effect. The cleanest of the clean can get crabs from sexual contact, or from infested clothes and bedding.
  • Pubic lice will go away on its own.
    Truth. This will never happen. You need to take action and get treatment, or you will get a skin infection from the continual feeding of the lice on your body.  Additionally, you could also harm sensitive areas by continuously scratching at the itch.
  • Shaving your pubic area can get rid of pubic crabs.
    Truth. Unless you have been treated for the infestation, shaving will not make any difference. The lice will just locate to another area of the body where there is coarse hair, like the legs or underarms. Also the small, almost invisible eggs, or nits, may cling to the base of the shaved hairs, and in time, hatch and come back to haunt you. Shaving will be of benefit when you have completed a course of treatment.
  • You can get pubic lice from animals and birds.
    Truth. This is absolutely impossible. Lice are uniquely adapted to the species on which they live, and cannot go from one species to another. Birds often have lice, but bird lice cannot live on humans. By the same token, human lice cannot survive on birds, or furry animals like cats and dogs.

There are many other strange stories about pubic lice, like being able to jump from person to person, and more outlandish actions. Remember that they can only be transferred by sexual contact, or contact with infested bedding and clothes.

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