Pubic Lice and Scabies

What are pubic lice and scabies?

Pubic lice (often called "crabs") and scabies (itch mites) are tiny insects that live on the skin. They are sometimes spread sexually, but you can also pick them up by using the same bed linen, clothes, or towels as an infected person. Pubic lice infect hairy parts of the body, especially around the groin and under the arms. Scabies cause an itchy rash, and are the result of a female mite burrowing into a person's skin to lay her eggs. 

Are they common?

Every year, millions of people experience infections from pubic lice or scabies. 

How are they transmitted?

Pubic lice and scabies are transmitted through contact with an infected area on another person or through contact with infested materials such as sheets, towels, undergarments, or hairbrushes. Lice may live away from the body on these materials up to 2 days and eggs live up to 6 days. 

What are their symptoms?

Although some people infected with pubic lice have no symptoms, you may experience considerable itching around the genitals. You may see light-brown insects the size of a pinhead moving on the skin or oval eggs attached to your body hair. The main symptom of scabies is itching, especially at night. You may also see burrows under the skin or a rash may appear in the folds of skin between the fingers or on the wrists, elbows, abdomen, or genitals. 

How soon after exposure to them will symptoms appear?

After you are exposed to pubic lice or scabies, it may be 2 to 6 weeks before symptoms are evident. 

How are they diagnosed?

If you think you may have pubic lice or scabies, see your medical provider. They will visually examine your pubic hair for signs of adult lice, lice eggs (nits), or mites. If you have a scabies infection, your medical provider may also take a skin scraping, looking for mite eggs and/or fecal matter, to confirm the diagnosis. Your medical provider can then determine whether or not you need to seek treatment. 

How are they treated?

The treatment is fairly simple. A medical provider will prescribe a medicated lotion, cream or shampoo that will be applied to the infected area. The most effective treatments include shampoos and creams that contain Lindane and you can pick up this prescription from the pharmacy in Health Services. Follow the directions carefully. The infestation may be stubborn, and you may need to repeat the treatment. Wash your clothes and bed linens in hot water, dry-clean them or press them with a very hot iron. Vacuum your mattress and bed. Avoid close contact with others and be sure to tell your sex partner(s). Anyone that you've had close contact with or who has shared your bed linens, clothes, or towels should be treated, even if they don't have an itch or rash.

Can infections of pubic lice or scabies be dangerous?

Fortunately, itchy and annoying is about all these lice and mites are. They are not carriers of other STIs or infections. Once you and anyone that you have close contact with have been successfully treated, you should be free of these parasites. 

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