Pubic lice, commonly known as crabs, were declared an endangered species last week. A 2003 study from the Australian Kirby Institute showed pubic lice as the most common sexually transmitted infection in Australia. Now, a mere 10 years later, the Kirby Institute has noted a dramatic decrease in the number of pubic lice infections.
“This decrease is probably due to an increase in grooming,” explained Veronica Granger, a physician at a Calgary sexual health clinic. “The optimal habitat of pubic lice is the groin area so, with the popularity of waxing and shaving that area, it is not surprising that pubic lice populations would suffer.”
Not everyone is happy about one less STI in the world. Betty Thrace, third-year biology student at the University of Calgary and leader of the “Don’t Shave the Rainforest” campaign on campus, acknowledged the “extreme loss in biodiversity” that the extinction of pubic lice could cause.
“Whenever there is a threat to biodiversity, there is a threat to the overall health of ecosystems,” said Thrace. “There needs to be a balance of various species in order to support a healthy planet.”
Thrace’s campaign has gained popularity at the U of C. A downtown rally on Jan. 19 drew a crowd of about 200 people.
“People are highly concerned about the ecological safety of our planet. We don’t want pubic lice to be put on the list of avoidable extinctions,” said Thrace. “Habitat loss is extremely preventable.”
Along with rallies to save pubic lice, Thrace and her fellow campaign leader Cory Williams have also sent letters to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the United Nations.
“The UN declared 2011–20 to be the ‘Decade on Biodiversity,’ ” Thrace explained. “It’s time the UN stepped up and took action against something terrible in the world!”
Williams led the rally over the weekend and is attempting to organize another rally in Ottawa. “Canada was a part of the Biodiversity Convention and as such should take crabs’ endangerment very seriously,” Williams said.
The Biodiversity Convention is an international legally-binding treaty that aims to conserve biodiversity, sustain natural resource use and advocate for fair sharing of resources among countries. While Williams could not point to how pubic lice related to sustainable usage and equitable sharing of resources, he quickly acknowledged the need for international attention to habitat depletion.
“First it was the polar bear, now it’s pubic lice! What will be next?”
U of C biology professor Susan Ghall supported Williams and Thrace’s campaign initially, allowing them to speak to her first-year biology students. “I’m happy young people are paying attention to these important issues,” Ghall said, but was confused as to why Williams and Thrace would unite behind “pubic lice, of all things.”
“Even if we lost pubic lice, there is still vast lice diversity,” continued Ghall. “Besides ecosystems, there’s not much genetic difference between head lice and pubic lice.”
Granger said that while a decrease in lice biodiversity is a “terrible loss,” it would be beneficial in the long run. “In my line of work, especially working at a sexual health clinic so close to post-secondary institutions, any decrease in infections is seen as a good thing,” she said.
“This is perhaps one of the few cases that habitat destruction is beneficial in the long run,” added Granger. “You know, like the tigers.”