In Brief

Lice-nce to kill: How Sex and the City wiped out the louse

Scientists say TV series' promotion of waxing has put the humble pubic louse on the endangered list

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PUBIC lice are on the retreat and it's all thanks to Sex and the City. That's the result of a study by the British Association of Dermatologists [BAD], which claims that the American TV series is partly responsible for laying waste to the lice.

Figures reveal that between 1997 and 2003, the prevalence of pubic lice declined from about 0.41 per cent to 0.17 per cent. According to the Daily Mail this decrease is a consequence of an episode of Sex and the City screened in 2000 depicting "several of the main characters - Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha - undergoing a wax where all the hair is removed".

The bikini wax, or 'Brazilian Wax', has been lousy for the pubic louse or the Phthirus pubis to give it its scientific name. The Mail says it "evolved from its ancestor, the gorilla louse, about 3.3 million years ago and adapted to live in areas of the human body with a similar density of hair to that of the gorilla".

For thousands of years pubic lice lived in peace, nestling in our nether regions, and passing from from body to another during sexual intercourse. But now, thanks, to Sex and the City, the lice are in danger of extinction.

Dr Kun Sen Chen, one of the authors of the research which will be presented at the BAD annual conference in Liverpool next week, says that public lice have not been able to survive the changing attitudes to body hair sparked by the mass media.

"What we have seen at work is the law of unintended consequences," says Dr Kun Sen Chen. "In popularising hair removal Carrie Bradshaw and co have contributed to ridding humanity of the pest that had plagued humans for millions of years. Sadly there isn't an Emmy for that."

Pubic lice enjoyed their heyday in the early 1960s when the sexual revolution saw their prevalence soar from 0.8 per cent in 1954 to 3.2 per cent in 1964. In recent years, however, they have dwindled and not just in Britain. Sydney's main sexual health clinic hasn't treated a woman with pubic lice since 2008 while male cases have fallen by 80 per cent in the last ten years. Given that cases of other sexually transmitted diseases have increased this doesn't point to a drop in promiscuity.

The authors of the research don't give all the credit for the decline of pubic lice to Sex and the City. Incidences may also be down because sufferers no longer go to clinics for treatment. Instead they visit their local chemist for over-the-counter remedies.

Either way, the future for pubic lice looks hairy, which is more than can be said for a bikini wax.

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