Pubic lice infestations are not a reportable condition in the US, but are considered an STD. There have been reports of outbreaks of pubic lice during earlier decades [1
], though reports are not numerous. In countries where military or STD records are widely available, records are more common. Mimouni [2
], for example, describes two outbreaks found in Israeli army records during the years 1972–1999. Incidence of pubic lice in European and South American STD clinic records and prison health records have been reported sporadically [3
]. Though reporting on pubic lice is less frequent than head lice or body lice, its epidemiology is important because of correlation with the occurrence of other STD infections [2
]. Because there is evidence of co-occurrence with other STD infections, and because accurate surveillance of ectoparasite levels is valuable in evaluating emerging or changing trends, this study was undertaken to describe self-reported attitudes and behavior concerning lice prevention and treatment (and treatment myths) which will add to the general knowledge of Pthirus pubis
infestation in young adults. It will also help alert college health clinics and health education providers to the need for continued educational efforts about this pest.
1.1. Pubic lice Biology and History
Before discussing current student attitudes and health behaviors, a general history of pubic louse occurrence and biology will facilitate evaluating the scope of student understanding There is archeological and historical evidence of lice infestation in the human population for as long as 10,000 years [9
], though there is much less occurrence information for pubic lice than for head and body lice. Archaeological evidence for occurrence of lice is unusual, due in part to burial and preservation methods which called for cleaning bodies and removing body parasites before burial [10
]. Kenward [10
], however, reports finding evidence of pubic lice in Roman and Medieval Britain. In South America, Rick, et al.
], report evidence of pubic lice in human remains. Reinhart and Buikstra [12
] report that these archeological studies confirm the parasitological axiom that “10% of the population harbors 70% of the parasites”. Thus, pubic lice have been present in the human population for thousands of years, but have never been of major importance as a serious pest.
The biological evolution of pubic lice and head or body lice shows divergence morphologically into two distinct species of ectoparasites. Together, the human louse complex comprises two species: Pediculus humanus
(variants Pediculus humanus
and Pediculus humanus
are the first. Pubic lice are a second distinct genus and species, Pthirus pubis
). Head lice (Pediculus humanus
are the most commonly occurring of the three species, particularly in school children. Body lice are the only disease vector of the complex, capable of transmitting bacterial diseases including trench fever, epidemic typhus, and louse-borne relapsing fever [13
]. Unlike head lice and pubic lice, body lice are associated typically with poor hygiene, socioeconomic status and disasters [14
Pubic lice are adapted to a sedentary life style on pubic hair, and sometimes on eyelashes and body hair, not often leaving the infested body. They are usually transmitted during sexual contact, and have been associated with other sexually transmitted diseases [2
]. All lice infestations are diagnosed by identification of live adult lice, and viable eggs (nits) on the hair shafts in the specific body regions giving them their names [15
]. Empty egg cases attached to hair shafts are not diagnostic of an active infection. Treatment for lice infestations is summarized by the following table derived from Diaz [14
], and Leone [16
] (Table 1
As noted in Table 1
, resistance to the pesticides in pediculocide treatments is increasing. Only pyrethrins+PBO pesticide formulations are available in the US.
1.2. Pubic Lice Incidence in Recent Surveys
Typical Pthirus pubis
infestation burden in the world appears to be approximately 2% of the (mainly) adult population. Records are often related to STD clinic records or to travel data. In a recent report regarding numbers and types of ectoparasites in travelers returning to the UK, only 7 out of 73 (about 1.6%/year) insect specimens collected from symptomatic patients during the years 1994 to 2000 were identified as Pthirus pubis
]. In countries where travelers may have visited, however, infestations numbers were considerably higher. In Nepal, for example, a control group for a study of lice in children showed pubic lice prevalence at 7% for pubic lice with head lice, and 9% for pubic lice with body lice [17
]. Bignell [8
] found 3.5 % male and 2% female infestation with pubic lice in genitourinary clinic screening in the UK in 1991, but only 1% in 2004. Varela, et al.
] found a yearly infestation rate in Spanish STD clinic records of 1.3 to 4.6% over the years 1988 to 2001. In Australia, Hart [18
] reported that from 1988–1991 the incidence of Pthirus pubis
in men attending an STD clinic was 1.7% and in women 1.1%. Other articles from 1990–2006 included pubic louse infestation in STD clinic screening and prostitute screening of 2.2% infestation [5
In addition to maintaining information about infestation rates for pubic lice, it is also important to determine the level of information susceptible populations may have concerning treatment and transmission. Information about possible co-occurring STD infections and about effective treatment are needed for susceptible populations, such as college students, where sexual activity typically ranges from 70–90% [19
]. This project, therefore, was undertaken to survey college students at a medium-sized East Coast University regarding student experience, knowledge and attitudes about pubic lice and infestation prevention and treatment. Cultural myths, prejudice, stigma and shame may prevent individuals from seeking treatment for pubic lice and possibly other STD infections [9
], which in turn prevents accurate surveillance, and can confound appropriate health intervention measures.