SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- Pubic lice (crabs) are usually sexually transmitted through direct skin-to-skin contact.
- Pubic lice do not voluntarily leave the body and will need to be treated with a cream or lotion that contains permethrin.
- Do not use insecticides used in the home as they won't work and may damage your skin.
- Pubic lice infestation causes no serious harm.
- If you have pubic lice, it is a good idea to be tested for other sexually transmissible infections (STIs).
About pubic lice
Pubic lice (or crab lice or crabs) can infest pubic hair around our genitals.
They can sometimes affect hair on other parts of the body including the armpit, eyebrows, eyelashes, beard and torso. They usually do not infect head hair.
Pubic lice infection is also called pediculosis pubis and the lice are called phthirus pubis.
Pubic lice are small, flat, light-brown parasites that cling to pubic hair and suck blood for nourishment. Blood sucking from pubic lice can cause small red areas or sores and itching.
Some people who have pubic lice or crabs don't experience symptoms.
Images of pubic lice and pubic louse, courtesy DermNet
How public lice spread
Pubic lice are usually transmitted through direct skin-to-skin contact during sexual activity. However, they can also be spread by contact with towels, underwear and bedding of an infected person.
Pubic lice symptoms
The main symptom is itching of the affected area, which is often worse at night.
Some people have no symptoms and may be unaware that they have pubic lice.
Lice, lice eggs and nits (empty eggshells) can sometimes be seen. They may be stuck to pubic hairs.
Diagnosing pubic lice
Pubic lice are diagnosed by careful inspection of the affected area.
Pubic lice treatment
Topical creams or lotions are used to treat the pubic lice:
- Apply the cream or lotion to the area affected by pubic lice.
- The cream or lotion can be washed off after 20 minutes.
- It is important to wash clothing, bedding and towels at the same time. A washing machine and dryer is suitable.
- Shaving pubic hair can also be helpful.
- Sometimes, a second treatment may be needed one week later.
- Avoid close personal contact until you and your sexual contacts or partners are treated.
Symptoms may take a few days to settle. If you still have symptoms one week after treatment, see your doctor for review.
General practitioners (GPs), pharmacists and sexual health centres can provide further advice about treatment.
Note: Do not apply treatment to your eyelashes. If your eyelashes are affected, discuss alternative treatment with your doctor.
Sexual partners should be treated for pubic lice
Any sexual partners you have had over the past month need to be examined and treated.
Current sexual partners should be treated at the same time as you are.
Where to get help
- Your pharmacist (including after hours )
- . To book an appointment call SHV Melbourne CBD Clinic: or call SHV Box Hill Clinic: or (free call): . These services are youth friendly.
- Tel. or or TTY (for the hearing impaired)
- (formerly Victorian AIDS Council) Tel. or
- Tel. Or
- , Wodonga Tel. or
- (throughout Victoria)
- Tel: is a statewide phone service for information about sexual health as well as contraception and pregnancy options
- , Melbourne Sexual Health Centre
- , Australiasian Sexual and Reproductive Health Alliance (ASRHA) and Australiasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine (ASHM)
- , Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP)
- , Sexual Health Victoria
- , Australian Government
- , DermNet, New Zealand