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Crabs - Symptoms of pubic lice

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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After you come into contact with public lice, it can take five days to several weeks before you notice any symptoms.

The symptoms of pubic lice are the same for both men and women, and include:

  • itching in the affected areas
  • inflammation and irritation in the affected areas caused by scratching
  • black powder in your underwear
  • blue-coloured spots on your skin where the lice are living, such as on your thighs or lower abdomen (these are caused by lice bites)
  • small spots of blood on your skin that are also caused by lice bites


Itching is the most common symptom of pubic lice. However, it can take several weeks after the first infestation for you to notice any itching.

The itching is not caused by the lice biting you. It is due to an allergy (hypersensitivity) to the louse saliva.

The itching is usually worse during the night when the lice are more active.

Pubic lice and eggs

Adult pubic lice are very small (about 2mm long) and are difficult to see. The lice are yellow-grey or dusky red in colour and have six legs.

Two of the legs are larger than the others and look like the claws of a crab. The lice use these to grasp onto hairs.

The lice lay their eggs in sacs that are firmly stuck to hairs and are a pale brownish colour. When the eggs hatch, the empty sacs are white.

Although pubic lice and lice eggs are very small and not easy to see, they may be visible in coarse hair anywhere on your body (apart from the hair on your head).

You may also find empty white eggshells (nits) on your hairs, although this does not necessarily mean that you still have an infestation of pubic lice.

Medical Review: January 27, 2012
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