Content Map Terms

Pubic Lice

British Columbia Specific Information

Lice are tiny insects that live on the human body or clothes, and feed on our blood. There are three different kinds of lice that affect humans: head lice, pubic lice, and body lice.

Head lice and pubic lice will not go away without treatment. Treatment should only be considered if head lice or live nits are found. All medications for head and pubic lice are available over the counter without a prescription from your doctor. This includes both oral medications and medications that you can apply to the surface of your body (topical). Body lice can be gotten rid of by bathing and washing personal items; no medicine is needed.

For more information on lice, including how they spread, signs and symptoms, and treatment options, see HealthLinkBC File #06 Head Lice, HealthLinkBC File #08h Pubic Lice, and Body Lice.

Topic Overview

What are pubic lice?

Pubic lice are tiny insects that usually live in your pubic area. Sometimes they're also found on facial hair, eyelashes, eyebrows, armpits, and chest hair. They're different than the kind of lice that you can get on your head. Pubic lice are also called "crabs" because they look like tiny crabs .

Millions of people get pubic lice every year. It doesn't mean you're not clean.

Pubic lice are usually spread through sexual contact. But sometimes they can spread through shared clothes, bedding, or towels. It's rare to get pubic lice from a toilet seat. That's because lice can't live more than a day or two away from a human body.

Pubic lice can be uncomfortable and inconvenient, but they're not dangerous. And you can learn how to treat them at home.

How are pubic lice diagnosed?

Pubic lice usually cause itching around the genitals, anus, armpits, eyelashes, or other body parts with hair. But not everyone has itching.

You may be able to see pubic lice crawling on shafts of hair. You may also see oval, yellow-white eggs (called nits) attached to hair. Sometimes, you can only see a few of them. It may help to use a magnifying glass.

The bites from the lice can cause small, flat, blue-grey marks on your torso, thighs, or upper arms. These marks can look like bruises. They can last for several months, even after the lice have been killed.

If you have lice in your eyelashes, your eyes can get crusty or irritated.

How are they treated?

It's important to treat pubic lice as soon as possible. They won't go away without treatment.

There are several over-the-counter medicines that kill pubic lice. Each type of medicine is a little different. It's important to use any medicine correctly and to choose a medicine that is safe for you.

You can also talk to the pharmacist to understand how to use a medicine and make sure that it is safe for you.

You may need to repeat treatment if you still have live lice after the first treatment.

After treatment, you'll still see the shell of the nits attached to the hair. You don't have to remove them. But you can remove them with a comb.

How can you prevent pubic lice from spreading?

Pubic lice are very contagious. That means they can easily spread from one person to another. But you can take steps to prevent that.

    • Machine-wash bedding, towels, and clothes in hot water. Dry them in a hot dryer. Anything that cannot be washed in hot water or dry-cleaned should be put in a sealed airtight plastic bag for 7 days to kill the lice.
    • Vacuum your home, including mattresses. You don't have to do other special deep cleaning.
    • Avoid sexual contact until you've successfully treated the lice.
    • Tell all your sex partners from the last month that you have pubic lice. Your sexual partner will need to be treated as well. Talking about this may be uncomfortable. But it will help prevent you from spreading the lice back and forth.

When should you call a doctor?

Call your doctor now if:

  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the area.
    • Pus draining from the area.
    • A fever.

Call your doctor if:

  • You are not getting better as expected.
  • Your symptoms get worse.


Other Works Consulted

  • Knowles S, Shear NH (2015). Scabies and lice. Compendium of Therapeutic Choices. Ottawa: Canadian Pharmacists Association. Accessed December 2, 2015.


Adaptation Date: 9/23/2021

Adapted By: HealthLink BC

Adaptation Reviewed By: HealthLink BC