Pubic Lice are NOT going extinct

Pubic Lice are NOT going extinct

Argh! I woke up to 20 emails asking for my opinion on pubic lice. How did your Monday Morning coffee go?

Alas, this story is making the rounds again:

Brazilian Bikini Waxes Make Crab Lice Endangered Species

Pubic lice, the crab-shaped insects that have dwelled in human groins since the beginning of history, are disappearing. Doctors say bikini waxing may be the reason.  Waning infestations of the bloodsuckers have been linked by doctors to pubic depilation

Like the last time I wrote about it, this story is getting a lot of popular press.  However, what is presented is a lot of anecdotal evidence—stories without actual data.

I will say that the evidence is much better than the last time this story made the rounds, and this is a far better written story.  However, please note that conspicuously sprinkled through the article are links to a bunch of major grooming appliance and beauty product companies.

Gosh, I can’t imagine why they might have a vested interest in promoting the idea that waxing and shaving your short and curlies might prevent pubic lice.

Here’s an important part of the story:

“Incidence data aren’t kept by the World Health Organization in Geneva because the gray, six-legged, millimeter-long louse doesn’t transmit disease, and national authorities such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and U.K.’s Health Protection Agency don’t collect the information.”

We only have anecdotal data from local health centers, such as the ones interviewed in the story. And:

“Historically, it’s been very difficult to get incidence data on pubic lice simply because people don’t like to report it,” said Richard Russell, director of medical entomology at Sydney’s Westmead Hospital. “In over 40 years, I could count on two hands the number of people who had brought pubic lice in for identification and admitted to knowing what they were.”

If you want to start trimming your shrubbery, go right ahead. But don’t do it because you think it will protect you from pubic lice; do it because you want to (for some inexplicable reason that I don’t understand myself, frankly).

You should also be aware that injuries from genital grooming are on the rise, and it is not without risk.  This is rightly pointed out in the article, for which I again give them props.

The article ends with this quote from a scientist. Emphasis mine in this quote:

“The life cycle of the female pubic louse ends if it’s unable to find a suitable place to lay eggs, Russell said, making it plausible that pubic hair removal is reducing populations of the insect.

“It makes sense from the point of the view of the biology of the beast, but how you’d ever find out, I don’t know,” Russell said in a telephone interview. “

We probably won’t ever really know the answer question of habitat destruction for the crab louse. This is ‘news’ only because crotch crickets are interesting because of the pastures they graze in.  (Which, of course, is exactly why -I- wrote about them!)

But don’t forget that just because a few people in the US and Down Under (snorf!) remove their body hair, the vast majority of people have intact lady gardens.  This is an attention-getting article, not news.

My earlier post debunking the “OMG Pube Lice Are Going Extinct” claim

Bug_girl has a PhD in Entomology, and is a pointy-headed former academic living in Ohio. She is obsessed with insects, but otherwise perfectly normal. Really! If you want a daily stream of cool info about bugs, follow her Facebook page or find her on Twitter.

11 Comments

  1. This made me immediately think of this talk: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GbmBoo3PWC4; which goes over how much “journalism” these days is actually just covert PR and advertising. I suspect it’s largely the case with the lice extinction article.

    • The link to this talk should probably be posted on every applicable news article. I really think somebody needs to write an article on how to read a newspaper critically. Then it needs to be made into poster form by a cartoonist somewhere.

      I actually discovered a lot of this for myself. I had some suspicions about the claims of a flying motorcycle and went looking for some additional details from other articles. I noticed that every single article had the same comment under it word for word. It pointed out that a similar vehicle had been tested in the 50s and linked to a picture.

  2. Look out for pubic lice that go public! ;-)

  3. Thank you, related posts! You’ve answered the question I was just about to ask.

    I don’t know why, but for some reason finding out I can’t just get pubic lice overnighted to me makes me feel like Veruca Salt being told she might have to wait a while to get an Oompa Loompa.

  4. Once again, humanity is on the verge of destroying some poor creatures habitat and for what? Because some people think hair down thair is yucky!?

    Remember when Schwarzenegger was running for CA governor the first time, saying, out loud on the Tonight show, that the biggest decision he ever had to make was whether to get a bikini wax when he was competing.

  5. I giggled at the term “crotch crickets”. I’m a sucker for alliteration.

  6. Hey! Cool! Cory Doctorow referenced y’all at BoingBoing (again!). :D

    http://boingboing.net/2013/01/14/public-waxing-is-an-environmen.html

  7. Not to mention that any beginning medical entomology textbook mentions the fact that pubic lice can infest not only the pubic region but also “other parts of the body such as the mustache, eyelashes and eyebrows” (Medical & Veterinary Entomology, Hearms 1923). I’d like to see these same folks walking around without THAT hair too. :)

  8. For the record, I do not own, never have owned, a lady garden.

    • Yeah, I couldn’t think of a global term that kept the plant theme besides shrubbery, which I had already used. Suggestions?

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