In 1994, the J Salon in New York City, which is run by seven Brazilian sisters, introduced the bikini wax made famous by the teeny bikinis of their native country. The trend caught on like wildfire and has been the depilation du jour ever since; more than 80 percent of college students in the U.S. remove all or some of their pubic hair. The trend continues to gain in popularity in western countries.
What’s this mean for pubic lice? Curtains. The blood-sucking insects that have loitered in human nether regions since the beginning of history are suddenly finding themselves without a natural habitat, possibly spelling the end to one of the planet’s most contagious sexually transmitted infections.
Pubic lice, known to the science set as Phthirus pubis, infest between 2 percent to 10 percent of the human population. And while they don’t spread disease, they cause extreme itching and potential infections, making them a vexing and hazardous pest.
The female louse requires mating only once to remain fertile throughout her life and generally lays eggs every day; once hatched, the wee lice begin feeding on the host right away and will continue to do so for their 30-day life or until eliminated.
But with the new trend in grooming, the numbers for pubic lice are plummeting. In Australia, Sydney’s main sexual health clinic hasn't received a report of a woman with pubic lice since 2008, while male cases have fallen 80 percent in the last 10 years.
“It used to be extremely common; it’s now rarely seen,” said Basil Donovan, head of sexual health at the University of New South Wales’s Kirby Institute and a physician at the Sydney Sexual Health Centre. “Without doubt, it’s better grooming.”
Could waxing become the best new weapon against the parasite? Pubic lice are usually treated with topical insecticides — some of them very toxic, like lindane, which the CDC notes can be toxic to the brain and other parts of the nervous system.
Or for $75 you can visit the Brazilian sisters, diminish the risk of lice, and be bikini-ready all in one smooth fell swoop.
Related story on MNN: What lice can tell us about human migration