Pediculosis pubis, also called pubic lice or crabs, is an infection caused by crab lice. The most common symptom of the condition is itching in the pubic area, though an infestation can also cause a bluish-gray tint to the skin. Sores or lesions may form in the pubic area from crab lice bites or scratching the infected area. Pediculosis pubis is usually spread through intimate sexual contact, though sharing bedding or clothing with an infected person can also spread the condition.
Pubic lice can spread to other areas of the body, including the abdomen, armpits, and eyelashes. Examining the eyelashes is particularly important in young children diagnosed with pediculosis pubis, since lice can lead to an eye infection called blepharitis. Impetigo is another infection concern. Ruptures in the skin from scratching can allow strep or staph bacteria to infect the open wounds, leading to bacterial infection that can cause lesions, blisters, or an oozing rash.
Most cases of pediculosis pubis can be treated effectively at home. Using a special lice comb can help remove the bugs and nits, or eggs, from the pubic area and anywhere else where the bugs have migrated. Trimming the pubic hair can make removing the bugs easier. Over-the-counter medicated shampoos or rinses kill the lice and eggs, though it is important to avoid the tip of the penis and the opening of the vagina. Chemicals in these products can irritate the mucous membranes.
Chemical treatment should be repeated within five to seven days if the infestation does not clear completely. All bedding and clothing that comes in contact with the infected person should be washed in very hot water and dried on high heat to kill the lice. People with pediculosis pubis should avoid sexual contact with others until the infection clears, since it is easy to spread even without having sexual intercourse.
Patients should seek medical attention if the infection does not clear up with at-home measures. Prescription shampoos and creams can help get rid of lice infestations that are resistant to over-the-counter products. If the area is red or swollen or if pus-filled lesions appear, a doctor can prescribe an antibacterial medication or cream to help treat the skin infection. Re-infestation is common, so it is important to refrain from sexual contact until all lice and nits are gone and itching and other symptoms completely subside. People who contract pediculosis pubis through sexual contact should be tested for other sexually transmitted infections.