Why are they also called crabs?

You go to take your shower and notice that there seem to be tiny bugs in your genital area. The spot is also incredibly itchy. The doctor tells you that you have pubic lice. How do you get rid of them? What do you need to do to prevent them from coming back in the future?


Pubic lice are usually transmitted through sexual activity, which is why they’re referred to as a sexually transmitted infection (STI). However, they can be spread through contact with infested sheets, blankets, towels, or clothes. Pubic lice are different from head and body lice. They like areas with coarse hair, so they can spread to other parts of your body with coarse hair such as your legs, chest, armpits, beard/mustache, and eyelashes/eyebrows. Often, pubic lice are called crabs because when viewed under a strong magnifying glass, adult lice resemble a miniature crab since they have six legs, and their two front legs are very large and look like the pincher claws of a crab.

The main symptom of pubic lice is intense itching in the infected area because of the bites from the lice. The lice bite because they feed on your blood. You’re more likely to contract other STIs if you have pubic lice. Complications can include pale blue spots in the area where the lice have been feeding continually. You can also develop secondary bacterial infections as a result of scratching at the bites. If your eyelashes are infested, you might acquire conjunctivitis (pink eye). This is especially common in children.


When checking your body, look at all hairy areas because lice can move away from treated areas to other hairy parts of the body. Also, it’s essential to note that shaving won’t get rid of pubic lice. When it comes to treating a pubic lice infestation, there are plenty of over-the-counter options. There are many different lotions or shampoos. The product should have at least 1% permethrin or pyrethrin. The key is to apply the product according to the directions on the packaging. You might need to repeat the treatment in 7 – 10 days. If pubic lice are found in eyelashes and eyebrows, apply petroleum jelly with a cotton swab at night and wash it off in the morning. You may need to repeat this for several weeks. It can irritate the eyes if used incorrectly. It’s also vital to wash any bedding, clothing, and towels used in the two days before treatment. These items must be washed in soapy water at least 130°F and dried on high heat for at least 20 minutes. This will ensure that no lice are remaining. If items can’t be washed, have them dry cleaned or seal them in an airtight bag for two weeks.

If this doesn’t work in getting rid of pubic lice, you’re pregnant, or you have infected skin from scratching, you should see a doctor. They can prescribe stronger treatments. Malathion is a prescription lotion applied to the affected area and washed off after 8 – 12 hours. Ivermectin is a pill that’s taken as a single dose of two tablets. If needed, you can repeat the dose in 10 days if the treatment isn’t initially successful.


To prevent a pubic lice infestation, you should avoid any sexual contact with anyone who has an infestation. You should also avoid sharing bedding or clothing with the individual. If you’re being treated for an infestation, be sure to let any sexual partners know so they can be treated if necessary.

Pubic lice aren’t something you want to have, but they will go away with the proper treatment and a little time. If you have any questions or concerns about pubic lice, please speak with your doctor. If you would like more information, please visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Pubic Lice page at https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/lice/pubic/index.html