Dealing with Pubic Lice: Understanding, Treating, and Preventing Infestations

Dealing with Pubic Lice: Understanding, Treating, and Preventing Infestations

Pubic lice mainly cling to pubic and armpit hair and feed on human blood. Itching and tiny bruises indicate the pests. They hardly move and are well hidden. The vocabulary often does not mince words when describing even unappetizing things. Pubic or pubic lice, therefore, have several colloquial pet names: love beetles, sack rats, and fattening sailors are just a few of them.

Characteristics of pubic lice

However, the nicknames for pubic lice describe some of the characteristics quite well: The pubic louse (Phthirus pubis) is transmitted through close physical contact, i.e. primarily sexual intercourse, and therefore feels exceptionally comfortable in the hair of the genital region, has six wart-like extensions similar to the beetle legs and sounds like this to the stem of the arthropods.


Of microbes and humans

Pubic lice are 1.5-2mm skin parasites that like to hang around where they can attach themselves with their pincer-like claws:

  • densely hairy areas with many sweat glands, i.e. pubic, armpit, chest, abdominal and beard hair,
  • In children, it also includes scalp hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes.

They prefer to stay in one place, sometimes sucking blood in the same place for hours. The female lays 2-3 eggs ( nits ) per day, up to 200 throughout her lifetime, and attaches these to the shaft of the coarse hairs. Larvae hatch within a week and are fully grown after two weeks.

During close physical contact, however, the sluggish little animal moves: It can suddenly cover several centimetres to enrich its menu with the blood of a new host. The louse also manages to survive for up to 2 days without meals in bed linen, clothing and towels, so it can – rarely – also be transmitted through indirect contact.

Pubic lice are found worldwide. Exact numbers are not available. According to some studies, the risk of pubic lice infestation (pediculosis pubis) seems to depend less on socioeconomic factors such as poverty and hygiene than on the type of sexual activity (e.g. frequently changing sex partners, single, homosexuality).

Pubic lice infestation symptoms

The symptoms appear about 3-6 days after infection: relatively minor, sometimes burning itching, mainly in the crotch, especially at night in the warmth of the bed, and slate-coloured to steel-blue discolourations (so-called taches bleues) the size of lentils to fingernails at the bite sites. Scratching can cause additional wounds.

Due to their immobility, the lice or nits can often only be seen as small dark spots after a long look or with a magnifying glass. Rust-brown stains can sometimes be seen in the laundry – droppings of the delicious little animals.


Pubic lice: detection and therapy

The diagnosis is often made based on the typical symptoms. The lice or nits can be detected microscopically if necessary. Drugs are available for treatment, which are applied to the affected regions several times from the outside. The nits are then removed with a fine comb. If eyebrows and eyelashes are infested, removing lice and nits with tweezers (after pre-treatment with Vaseline) is recommended since the medication is too dangerous for the eyes. Shaving or cutting the hair is not necessary. All people who are in close contact must be treated as well.

General measures are essential to get rid of the lice safely. This includes frequently changing, boiling and hot drying of towels, bed linen and underwear. If you close your laundry tightly in a plastic bag for three days, you can safely starve the parasites. An alternative is dry cleaning. Combs and brushes must be placed in hot water at approximately 60 °C for 10 minutes and then in disinfectant for one hour.

In a nutshell

  • Pubic lice are human bloodsuckers and are found worldwide.
  • Transmission occurs primarily through direct physical contact, rarely indirectly.
  • Signs are itching and bluish spots.
  • Family and sexual partners must also be treated.

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