Pubic Lice (Crabs): All You Need to Know

What are pubic lice?

Pubic lice, also called crabs, are small parasites that attach to the skin and hair near your genitals. Crabs are tiny insects that look like tiny versions of the crabs you see at the beach. They live on the skin and coarse hairs are around your genitals. They feed on your blood to stay alive. Pubic lice spread really easily during sexual contact.

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Crabs are not dangerous, and they’re usually pretty easy to get rid of.

Millions of people get infected with pubic lice yearly. Public lice symptoms include pretty intense itching. Pubic lice can be uncomfortable, but they don’t cause any serious health problems. It’s usually easy to get rid of them using over-the-counter medicines.

Getting pubic lice has nothing to do with hygiene or cleanliness. Anybody can get pubic lice if they have close, personal contact with people who has them.

How do you get pubic lice (crabs)?

Crabs are usually spread through sex, because they like to live in pubic hair. Pubic lice move easily from one person’s hairs to another person’s hairs when their genitals touch or are very close to each other.

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Apart from sexual contact, crabs are spread through other kinds of close, personal contact. You can get pubic lice where other types of coarse hair — like eyelashes, eyebrows, chest hair, armpits, beards, and mustaches — touch places on someone’s body where crabs are. Sometimes pubic lice can be passed on to an uninfected person when they use towels, clothes, or bed of infected persons.

Crabs cannot be passed on through quick, casual touching, like hugs or handshakes. It’s quite rare to get crabs from a toilet seat because crabs don’t live very long when they’re away from a human body, and they can’t hang onto smooth surfaces.

Pubic lice are quite different from hair lice because even though crabs are into hair, they usually don’t like to hang out in the hair on top of your head. In the same vain, head lice are not usually found in pubic area.

What are the symptoms of pubic lice (crabs)?

The most common symptom of pubic lice is itching near your genitals. You may also notice crabs or eggs in your pubic hair.

Pubic lice symptoms

Usually, the symptoms of pubic lice start about 5 days after exposure. Some people never have symptoms, or they think the symptoms are caused by something like a rash.

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The most common symptom of pubic lice is extreme itching in your pubic area, caused by your body’s reaction to the bites from the crabs.

Symptoms of pubic lice include:

  • Intense itching in your genital area.
  • Tiny bugs in your pubic hair. You can usually see pubic lice by looking closely, or you may need to use a magnifying glass. Pubic lice are tan or whitish-gray, and they look like tiny crabs. They get darker when they’re full of blood.
  • Dark or bluish spots on the skin, caused by bites at the place where pubic lice are living.
  • Crab eggs, also called nits, are found on the bottom part of your pubic hairs. Nits are really small and can be hard to see. They’re oval and yellow, white, or pearly. Nits usually come in clumps.
  • Feeling feverish, run-down, or irritable.

Apart from the genitals, crabs can sometimes end up in other kinds of coarse hair, like your eyelashes, eyebrows, chest hair, armpits, beard, or mustache, but rarely found in the hair on top of your head.

Do I have pubic lice?

Severe itching and noticing tiny crabs in the genitals is a major indicator of pubic lice. However, a nurse or doctor can detect.

People figure out on their own that they have pubic lice. You can sometimes see the little crabs in your genital area and/or their eggs (nits) stuck to the base of your pubic hair. It may be hard to find the lice or eggs, because there might not be that many and they’re super small. Using a magnifying glass can help, or a nurse or doctor can look for them with a microscope.

You can still have pubic lice even if you don’t see any crabs or eggs. If you’re itching or you just think you might have crabs, see a nurse or doctor. Crabs are not dangerous, and they’re pretty easily cured with over-the-counter (OTC) treatments.

What’s the treatment for pubic lice?

Pubic lice are easy to treat. You can get OTC pubic lice treatment at a drugstore, or from your doctor. Pubic lice treatments are easy to use and come in shampoos, gels, liquids, and foam. Most are sold OTC in drugstores, so you can buy them without first getting a prescription from a doctor. Common brands are A-200, Rid, and Nix. Follow the directions that come in the package carefully. You may need to use the treatment more than once.

However, if you have lice in your eyelashes or eyebrows, you can get stronger medicines with a prescription.

If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, talk to your doctor before using any treatment.

Anyone you’ve had intimate contact with should treat themselves at the same time, so you don’t pass crabs back and forth. Always use freshly-washed clothes, towels, and bedding after you finish treatment.

The only thing that will actually get rid of your crabs for good are medicines meant to kill pubic lice. Home remedies like hot baths or shaving don’t work. Hydrocortisone cream can soothe the itching and help you feel better, but they won’t cure your pubic lice.

What do I need to do to get rid of pubic lice?

Even after you finish the treatment, most of the lice eggs will remain stuck to your hairs. You can pick them off with your fingernails or a fine-toothed comb.

Along with using medication, wash or dry clean all of your bedding and towels. Also wash or dry clean any clothing that you wore while you had crabs. Wash these fabrics on the hottest setting, and dry on them on the hot cycle for at least 20 minutes.

You can also put fabrics that can’t be washed in a sealed bag for 2 weeks, until the crabs and their eggs die out. You can also vacuum rugs and furniture. There’s no need to call an exterminator or fumigate your home.

If you still see live lice after 9-10 days, repeat the treatment and ensure you’ve washed everything you needed to, and that your sexual partners did the treatment too. If the crabs still don’t go away, talk to your doctor.

How can I prevent getting or spreading pubic lice?

Crabs are easily spread during sex, even if you use condoms. The only 100% sure way to prevent pubic lice is to not have intimate contact.

How do I avoid getting pubic lice?

Crabs are highly contagious and spread easily when people’s genitals and pubic hair rub together during sexual activity. The only way to prevent crabs is not to have sex.

Condoms are goof at preventing other STDs like HIV, but they don’t protect you from crabs.

If someone you know has crabs, avoid sharing clothes, towels, and beds with them until they finish treatment and wash all their stuff. If you’ve had sex with them in the previous month, use treatment to make sure you don’t pass crabs back and forth between you.



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