Pubic Lice Eguide
What Are Pubic Lice?
Pubic Lice, also known as Phthirus pubis or “crabs“, infest an estimated 3 million people in the United States each year with even more cases found world wide. Although an infestation of pubic lice is scientifically termed as “pediculosis,” it is often considered a sexually transmitted disease or STD.
Pubic lice are a parasitic insect that commonly infests the genital area of humans. These lice are generally less mobile compared to body or head lice. Pubic lice are usually referred to as “crabs.” They obtained this name due to their resemblance to the crab and their pincher-like claws.
Although the most common area of infestation is the genital area, the crab louse can live in almost any type of human hair. Pubic lice can be found in the eyebrows, beards, moustaches, thighs, abdomen, underarm and even eyelashes. Although it is possible to have an infestation of pubic lice without any symptoms, the individual will usually experience itching.
How are Pubic Lice transmitted?
Again, an infestation of pubic lice is usually considered an STD. This means that transmission most commonly occurs from direct person to person contact that usually involves sexual activity; however, it can occur through direct physical contact with contaminated objects such as bed linens, towels, clothes or toilet seats. The route of transmission via contaminated objects is thought to be very rare. It is a common misconception that an individual can contract this infestation from their pets. Animals cannot contract or spread pubic lice. It is also important to consider that infestation in a young child or adolescent may sometimes indicate sexual activity or abuse.
- Having multiple sex partners
- Having sexual contact with an infested person
- Sharing bedding/clothing with an infested person
What are the symptoms of Pubic Lice?
It is possible to have an infestation of pubic lice and not show any symptoms. Generally, however, the individual will experience itching that will worsen at night when the pubic lice become more active and begin feeding.
When pubic lice feed they inject saliva into their host causing its primary symptom of itching. Scratching will only increase present irritation and may lead to secondary infections. Pubic lice can also leave a painless blue, gray rash accompanied by inflammation. It may also be possible to see the actual insect in the affected area or the presence of nits wrapped around the hair shaft.
Generally someone that has been exposed to pubic lice will notice the primary symptom of itching immediately or within a one week time frame, but it can take up to 2-4 weeks for eggs to hatch and mature lice to be seen.
- Itching in affected area
- Presence of nits or adult lice
- Lesions in affected area due to scratching and bites
What is the life cycle of Pubic Lice?
There are three stages that complete the life cycle of pubic lice – nit, nymph and adult.
Nit: Nits are the eggs of the pubic louse. They are found firmly wrapped around the hair shaft of the affected area and hatch in approximately 6-8 days. The nits appear oval and are usually yellow to white in color. Nits are roughly 1 millimeter in length. Nits can stay alive for up to 14 days once removed from a host.
Nymph: Upon hatching the baby louse is considered a nymph. The nymph looks similar to an adult pubic louse but smaller. Nymphs range from 1.1 millimeters to 1.3 millimeters in length and mature in about 7 days after hatching. In order to continue life the nymph must feed on a blood meal from a human host.
Adult: The time frame from nit to adult takes approximately 23 days and without a host adults cannot live past 1-2 days. The adult pubic louse is tan to grayish-white in color and range from 1.25 millimeters to 2 millimeters in size. This louse is generally smaller in length compared to the head and body louse. Pubic lice have a broader oval shaped body with six legs. Their two front claws are much larger with pincher like claws.
When viewing under magnification the pubic louse resembles a miniature crab. The female louse is generally larger in sized versus the male. The female may lay up to 40 nits at a time or 30-90 nits in their life span. The female’s lifecycle takes approximately 40 days to complete. The pubic louse’s mouthparts can remain attached to the skin for days at a time feeding.