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Pubic lice

Pubic lice (or ‘crabs’) are tiny insects, like head lice, that live in pubic or body hair. They can be transferred through sexual contact, close body contact with an infected person, or occasionally through infected bed linen or clothes.
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What are the symptoms?

If you’ve caught crabs, you might have some or all of these symptoms:

  • genital itching (from an allergic reaction to the lice bites)
  • tiny blood spots on your underwear (this is where you have been bitten)
  • tiny blue spots on the skin around your genitals
  • tiny lice or tiny eggs (nits).

Scratching can transfer the lice to other parts of your body that have coarse hair, like your legs, armpits, and even eyebrows and eyelashes.

How do you know if you have public lice?

You can usually find out by looking closely to see the lice and/or the eggs, but they may be so tiny that a microscope is needed.

Is there a cure for pubic lice?

Yes, pubic lice can be easily treated. They’re uncomfortable, but not dangerous. At the chemist, you can buy special products to kill the lice and the eggs.

Other things to consider:

  • There are special treatments available for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding and for babies
  • Tell your sexual partner and family they might need treatment. If you have lice, chances are they do too
  • Dry clean or hot-wash your clothes and bed linen
  • For anything you can’t wash, put it into a plastic bag and seal for two weeks to make sure the lice are dead.

If the treatment doesn’t work after a week, you may need to do it again. If you still have symptoms after a second treatment, talk to a doctor.

For a list of sexual health clinics around the country, check Think Contraception.

If you go to a clinic, will they tell your parents?

According to the law, you can request and receive medical care for yourself once you’re 16-years-old. At the sexual health clinic the information you give staff is completely confidential. It can’t be shared with your parents or people you know, unless the law requires staff to do so.

An example of this would be if health staff thought you were at risk of serious harm. In this case the clinic is required to report this to the duty social worker in the Health Service Executive (HSE).

Another example might be if your files were required in a court case.

Check STIs – an introduction for more on other STIs, and your sexual health for information about having an STI test.

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This article was last reviewed on 28 March 2017

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