Tue Oct 21, 8:00 PM ET
Signs and Symptoms:
Pubic lice (PHTHIRUS PUBIS) are six-legged creatures that infest the hair in the pubic area. They can also infest other body hair, but they prefer the pubic region. Pubic lice infestation, called pediculosis, is considered a sexually transmitted disease (STD), but it can be contracted in other ways.
It’s possible to be infested with pubic lice and have no symptoms, but itching is usually present. This can worsen at night when the louse becomes active and buries its head inside a pubic hair follicle to feed on human blood. It excretes a substance that causes the itching.
Sometimes the bite can cause the area to become inflamed and turn bluish gray. Although lice themselves do not cause a rash, the constant itching and scratching can cause the area to become raw, resulting in a secondary bacterial infection. Scratching also can aid the spread of lice.
An examination of the external genital region infested with pubic lice can show small gray-white oval eggs (nits) attached to the hair shaft and may reveal adult lice. Scratch marks and secondary bacterial infections such as impetigo may also be noted. Adult lice can be easily identified under the microscope by their crab-like appearance. For this reason, they are often referred to as “crabs.”
Pubic lice can be difficult to see because of their location and appearance. Grayish-white lice blend in with white skin, and brown lice can be mistaken for moles and are hard to see on black skin.
If lice infest the eyebrows or eyelashes, the eyes may become inflamed. In young children, pubic lice may be a cause of blepharitis (irritation or infection of the eyelids), so a child’s eyelashes should be examined with a high-powered magnifying glass if lice are suspected.
After exposure to lice, symptoms may occur immediately or may not be experienced for 2 to 4 weeks until the eggs hatch. Medicated shampoos, creams, and lotions can get rid of the lice immediately, but it may take several weeks for the itching and irritation to subside.
Pubic lice are usually transmitted through direct physical contact, especially of the genital area. Occasionally, transmission can occur through contact with the infested person’s sheets, towels, or clothes. Pubic lice can live apart from a human body for 1 to 2 days.
They are rarely transmitted from furniture or toilet seats because the lice that fall from the body are usually injured or dying. Unlike fleas, lice cannot jump from person to person, nor can they be contracted from animals.
Each female pubic louse produces 10 to 15 eggs that hatch in about 10 days. If the infestation consists of many adult lice, symptoms may be noticeable immediately; if the infestation initially involves a few lice that subsequently lay eggs, symptoms may not appear until the eggs hatch.
Because pubic lice are considered an STD, an infestation can be avoided by not having sex or by having sex only with one uninfested partner.
Pubic lice can also be contracted from bedding and towels used by an infested person so it’s important to avoid contact with any item - including clothing - that the person has used.
When to Call Your Doctor:
Pubic lice can be treated at home, but you should call your doctor for treatment advice and so that he or she can determine if there are secondary infections caused by scratching or an allergic reaction to the louse bites.
Normally, an infestation of pubic lice does not require professional treatment. If the infestation is substantial, you may want to visit your child’s doctor for a prescription-strength treatment shampoo that you can use at home. If the area is raw or has open lesions from scratching, antibiotics may be prescribed for a secondary bacterial infection that may be present.
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