STD Home > Pubic Lice

Typically found in the genital area, pubic lice are small, wingless insects that feed on blood. The most common symptom of an infestation is frequent, intense itching. While pubic lice are typically transmitted through sexual contact, transmission can sometimes occur through contact with an infested person's clothing or bedding. Treatment generally involves over-the-counter medication and careful laundering of the infested person's clothing and bed linens.

What Are Pubic Lice?

Pubic lice are small, wingless insects most often found in the genital area of humans. When a person is infested with lice (whether it is pubic lice, head lice, or body lice), the condition is known as pediculosis. An infestation with pubic lice is known as pediculosis pubis.
They are not the same thing as head lice. Lice found on the hair and head are caused by an infestation with a parasite known as Pediculus humanus capitis.
Pubic lice also goes by several other names, including:
  • Pubic crabs
  • Crabs
  • Crab lice
  • Genital crabs.

Transmitting Pubic Lice

Pubic lice is usually spread through sexual contact. For this reason, it is considered a sexually transmitted disease (STD). In rare cases, infestation can be spread through contact with an infested person's bed linens, towels, or clothes. Infection in a young child or teenager may indicate sexual activity or sexual abuse. Animals do not get or spread pubic lice.
(Click Transmission of Pubic Lice for more information on how it is spread.)

Risk Factors

There are several risk factors for pubic lice. These include:
  • Having multiple sex partners
  • Sharing clothing or bedding with an infested person
  • Having sexual contact with an infested person
  • Being a sexually active adolescent.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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