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Pubic lice (often called ‘crabs’) are tiny insects that can live in your pubic and other body hair. They can cause an itch, bite and lay eggs. They're easy to treat, but you should get tested if repeat treatments don't work.

This can help if:

  • you think you have pubic lice
  • you want to know how to prevent public lice
  • you want to know how to treat pubic lice.
Close up of 2 friends

What are pubic lice?

Pubic lice, or ‘crabs’, are tiny insects that live in pubic hair. (That’s the hair that covers your genitals). They're usually passed on through sexual contact, but can also be transmitted in other ways, such as by sharing a towel. Similar to head lice, pubic lice are a nuisance but can be easily treated and cured.

Symptoms of pubic lice

Pubic lice often (but not always):

  • makes you itchy around your genitals or bum
  • causes tiny blue spots to develop on the skin around your genitals
  • leaves spots of blood on your underwear where you've been bitten
  • have lice or tiny eggs that you can see in your pubic hair.

You can also get them in your armpits, or even in your eyelashes, as they can be transferred when you scratch.

Treating pubic lice

If you have itching around your genitals or bum and you can see that you have small insects in the area, you should:

  • get a treatment (medical shampoo) over the counter at the chemist
  • tell people you live with, frequently share a bed with or have sex with, so that they can treat it, too. (Yes, it might seem awkward, but you risk being reinfected if you don’t!)
  • hot-wash or dry-clean your sheets, doona, pillowcase and towels.

If the pubic lice or itching doesn’t go away, or you have itching but no visible lice, it’s worth getting checked out at a medical centre or sexual health clinic. Learn more about getting a sexual health check.

What can I do now?