|Ginger Brazilian Model Cintia Dicker|
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, especially a technique popularized in the 1990s by a Manhattan salon run by seven Brazilian sisters. More than 80 percent of college students in the U.S. remove all or some of their pubic hair -- part of a trend that’s increasing in western countries. In Australia, Sydney’s main sexual health clinic hasn’t seen a woman with pubic lice since 2008 and male cases have fallen 80 percent from about 100 a decade ago.
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In addition to being the country that produced the great minds that figured out how to starve out the dreaded pubic louse, and probably not coincidentally, Brazil is also the country with the greatest per capita production of super-models. A few are included for, well, just because.
“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.”
The trend suggests an alternative way of stemming one of the globe’s most contagious sexually transmitted infections. Pubic lice are usually treated with topical insecticides, which once included toxic ones developed before and during World War 2. While they aren’t known to spread disease, itchy skin reactions and subsequent infections make pubic lice a hazardous pest.
Clipping, waxing and shaving the groin destroy the optimal habitat of pubic lice. The practice has helped spur sales of depilatory products for companies such as Procter & Gamble Co. (PG) and Reckitt Benckiser Group Plc. (RB/)
|Flavia Oliviera - Brazilian Model|
The global market for depilatories was worth $4.69 billion last year, according to London-based Euromonitor International Ltd., which estimates sales increased at a 7.6 percent average annual clip the past decade. Cincinnati-based P&G, Slough, England-based Reckitt Benckiser and Energizer Holdings Inc. (ENR), based in St. Louis, dominate the market, which Euromonitor predicts will reach $5.6 billion by 2016.
A majority of college men and women in the U.S. and Australia remove all or part of their pubic hair, researchers at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, reported in a 2011 paper, citing surveys and research by other scholars. In the U.K., 99 percent of women older than 16 years remove some hair, most commonly from the under arms, legs and pubic area, a 2005 study found.
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“Pubic grooming has led to a severe depletion of crab louse populations,” said Ian F. Burgess, a medical entomologist with Insect Research & Development Ltd. in Cambridge, England. “Add to that other aspects of body hair depilation, and you can see an environmental disaster in the making for this species.”
Pubic lice, known scientifically as Phthirus pubis, infest about 2 percent to 10 percent of the human population, researchers at East Carolina University said in a 2009 study.
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.
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“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.”OK, OK, just one more Brazilian...
A 2003 study of sexually transmitted infections in Australia found pubic lice was the most common symptom-causing ailment, with at least a third of people experiencing an infestation at some point in their life. Most people self-treat the problem with a topical lousacide bought from pharmacies, Donovan said.
Ten years ago, U.K. doctors noticed a dwindling in cases of pubic lice even as patient numbers and prevalence rates of other sexually transmitted infections increased.