AIDS, Hepatitis and Sexual Health

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Scabies and Pubic Lice

Scabies and pubic lice (commonly known as crabs) are tiny insects, which cause itching of the skin. However they have important differences and accurate diagnosis is essential to ensure correct treatment.


Itchiness in the pubic hair or occasionally in other hairy body parts, such as a man's chest. A closer look may show tiny crab-like lice.


In most cases pubic lice are passed from person to person where pubic hair (or other hair) touches. Lice can also be spread through sharing clothing, towels or sheets.


Unfortunately condoms offer no protection against pubic lice.


Scabies burrow under the skin where they lay eggs. The burrows cause itchiness and usually a localised rash. Affected areas can be any hairy part of the body.

Pubic Lice (Crabs)

Crabs live on the surface of the skin attached firmly to the base of the hair follicle, usually but not always pubic hair. They look a bit like a freckle to the naked eye. They lay eggs, which stick to the base of the hair. They also cause itchiness especially if scratched.


There are no particular tests for these infestations, and treatment is by using special shampoos or lotions readily available from pharmacies. Clothing, towels and bedding also should be washed at the time of treatment. With crabs, treatment should be repeated after 7 to 10 days to remove any developing eggs. With scabies the itching may persist for some days after treatment. This is to be expected and doesn’t mean treatment has not worked.

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