Tiny Acrobat: Louse Photographed Flipping and Twirling

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A pubic louse (Phthirus pubis) dangles between two hairs. (Image credit: The New England Journal of Medicine ©2017.)

Doctors in Mexico snapped a stunning photo of an acrobatic arthropod flipping and twirling. But the critter was far from a medical marvel — rather, the crab-shaped parasite was a lowly pubic louse.

The doctors spotted the pubic louse (Phthirus pubis) when they were examining a 65-year-old man who said he'd had severe itching in his groin area for the past six weeks, according to a brief report of the man's case, published today (Oct. 4) in The New England Journal of Medicine.

In addition to the acrobatic louse, doctors found a louse nit, or egg, firmly attached to a pubic hair, according to the case report. The man had no lesions on his skin, the doctors wrote. [27 Oddest Medical Cases]

Pubic pediculosis, or an infestation of pubic lice, is usually transmitted through sexual contact, but it can also be spread via clothing, bedding and towels, according to the report. The man in this case told doctors that he'd had no recent sexual contact.

The lice can be found on coarse hair anywhere on the body, such as on the chest, armpit or leg; in the man's case, the infestation was limited to his pubic region.

The man was treated with an oral anti-parasite medicine called ivermectin. He was examined and treated in Mexico; in the U.S., oral ivermectin isn't approved for the treatment of lice, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Instead, special lotions and shampoos are recommended.

Two weeks after his treatment, the man's itching had stopped, and at a follow-up exam two weeks after that, doctors found no signs of lice.

Originally published on Live Science.

Sara G. Miller
Staff Writer
Sara is a staff writer for Live Science, covering health. She grew up outside of Philadelphia and studied biology at Hamilton College in upstate New York. When she's not writing, she can be found at the library, checking out a big stack of books.