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Pubic Lice

Also called: Crabs


What are pubic lice?

Pubic lice (also called crabs) are tiny insects which usually live in the pubic or genital area of humans. They are also sometimes found on other coarse body hair, such as hair on the legs, armpits, mustache, beard, eyebrows, or eyelashes. Pubic lice on the eyebrows or eyelashes of children or teens may be a sign of sexual exposure or abuse.

Pubic lice are parasites, and they need to feed on human blood to survive. They are one of the three types of lice that live on humans. The other two types are head lice and body lice. Each type of lice is different, and getting one type does not mean that you will get another type.

How do pubic lice spread?

Pubic lice move by crawling, because they cannot hop or fly. They usually spread through sexual contact. Occasionally, they may spread through physical contact with a person who has pubic lice, or through contact with clothing, beds, bed linens, or towels that were used by a person with pubic lice. You cannot get pubic lice from animals.

Who is at risk for pubic lice?

Since they spread mainly through sexual contact, pubic lice are most common in adults.

What are the symptoms of pubic lice?

The most common symptom of pubic lice is intense itching in the genital area. You may also see nits (lice eggs) or crawling lice.

How do you know if you have pubic lice?

A diagnosis of a pubic lice usually comes from seeing a louse or nit. But lice and nits can be difficult to find because there may be only a few present. Also, they often attach themselves to more than one hair, and they do not crawl as quickly as head and body lice. Sometimes it takes a magnifying lens to see the lice or nits.

People who have pubic lice should also be checked for other sexually transmitted diseases, and their sexual partners should also be checked for pubic lice.

What are the treatments for pubic lice?

The main treatment for pubic lice is a lice-killing lotion. Options include a lotion that contains permethrin or a mousse containing pyrethrins and piperonyl butoxide. These products are available over-the-counter without a prescription. They are safe and effective when you use them according to the instructions. Usually one treatment will get rid of the lice. If not, you may need another treatment after 9-10 days.

There are other lice-killing medicines that are available with a prescription from your health care provider.

You should also wash your clothes, bedding, and towels with hot water, and dry them using the hot cycle of the dryer.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Learn More

  • Pubic "Crab" Lice Diagnosis (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
  • Pubic "Crab" Lice Prevention and Control (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
  • Pubic "Crab" Lice Treatment (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
  • Pubic Lice (Crabs) (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research) Also in Spanish
  • Pubic Lice (Crabs) (For Teens) (Nemours Foundation) Also in Spanish
  • Pubic Lice (For Parents) (Nemours Foundation) Also in Spanish


  • Pubic Lice (Pediculosis Pubis) (VisualDX)

Journal Articles References and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine)

  • Article: Dermoscopy of pediculosis pubis in an octogenarian man.
  • Article: Secondary structure construction and molecular identification of rRNA 18S V4 region...
  • Article: Lice and lice-borne diseases in humans in Africa: A narrative review.
  • Pubic Lice -- see more articles

Patient Handouts

The information on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Contact a health care provider if you have questions about your health.