What are crabs?
Pubic lice, often called crabs, are a type of small insect that prefers to live in the coarse hair found in the pubic area. They can also live elsewhere, including the armpits, chest, or facial hair. Crabs are not a disease: they are a common parasite that infects millions of people each year.
Pubic lice are small, less than 2 millimeters long. While they are visible to the eye, they may not be noticed immediately in coarse hair. They feed on blood, biting the skin to eat. The entire life cycle of a pubic louse occurs on the human body, including laying eggs, so it’s not uncommon to find egg sacs in pubic hair along with the lice themselves.
Having pubic lice can be uncomfortable and unpleasant. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of public lice can help you identify when you should get treated.
Signs and symptoms of crabs
The most common sign of having crabs is seeing a louse in your pubic area. While you may have just one louse, it is more common to have multiple. If you see one, there are likely more, and you have been infected with pubic lice.
Other warning signs of crabs include:
Itchy pubic area
One of the most frequent symptoms of crabs, outside of seeing the lice, is feeling itchy from their bites. You may also be able to feel them moving, which can also make you itchy. This itch will often be its worst at night.
Inflammation and irritation
If your pubic area is itchy, you’re likely to scratch it. That can lead to irritation and inflammation of the delicate skin in the area. You may also experience swelling or irritation as a result of an allergic reaction to the lice bites.
Spots of blood
When lice bite you, they may leave small spots of blood or blue dots on your skin. These spots can be found on your thighs, pubic area, and lower abdomen, or anywhere else that pubic lice inhabit.
Black powder in clothing
Since public lice are insects, they excrete just like any other insect. If you have a significant infestation of pubic lice, you may start to notice black powder in your underwear and clothes. This is the pubic lice’s feces.
Causes of crabs
Because of their location, pubic lice are frequently transmitted through sexual contact. It’s easy for the lice or egg sacs to transfer from one person to another during sexual activity. However, there are several other ways you can get crabs without being sexually active.
Other potential causes of pubic lice include:
Sharing clothing, especially pants or intimate apparel, can transfer crabs from one person to another. The egg sacs and lice can hold onto fabric just as easily as they can hold onto hair, so unwashed clothing can easily transmit the parasites.
As with clothing, sharing towels can spread pubic lice egg sacs from one person to another. Towels can also transfer pubic lice to other parts of the body, such as the armpits or facial hair.
Finally, sharing a bed or using a bed that someone with pubic lice has slept in can sometimes give you a pubic lice infection. Public lice seek out heat, so if they are in the bedding, they may migrate onto your body.
Your doctor can easily diagnose you if you have crabs. To identify pubic lice, your doctor will first ask you questions about your symptoms to rule out other problems. Then a healthcare professional will examine your pubic area or anywhere else that you feel may be infested.
They will look for signs of live lice, egg sacs, and juvenile lice known as mites. If they see any of these problems, they will confirm that you have pubic lice and direct you to appropriate treatment.
Treatments for crabs
Since crabs are insects, they cannot be treated like other STIs. Instead, it’s necessary to use treatments that can kill bugs. Commonly, this includes using over-the-counter lice-killing lotions, mousses, or shampoos. In many cases, a course of a 1% permethrin lotion can completely resolve a case of pubic lice.
Make sure you complete the treatment and follow the instructions carefully, since many treatments for pubic lice can be toxic to humans if ingested. In rare cases, you may need to reach out to your doctor for an oral prescription if over-the-counter treatments aren’t effective.
Avert: "Pubic Lice Symptoms and Treatment."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "About Pubic “Crab” Lice."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Pubic Lice Treatment."
National Health Service: "Pubic lice."
Top How Do You Know If You Have Crabs Related Articles
Can You Get Rid of Crabs by Shaving?Shaving pubic hair alone does not get rid of crabs or pubic lice. Crabs may cling and crawl to other body hair. Pubic lice are resilient creatures that can live on other parts of the body, including the armpits and eyelashes. The typical treatment for pubic lice is a lotion containing permethrin or pyrethrin/piperonyl butoxide.
Crabs (Pubic Lice) PictureParasitic insects found in the genital area of humans. See a picture of Crabs (Pubic Lice) and learn more about the health topic.
How Do You Get Rid of Lice Quickly?Head lice are small wingless insects that are light brown or grey in color and may be present on the scalp, eyebrows, and eyelashes. They feed on the blood of the scalp and derive nutrition. An infestation with head lice more commonly affects children than adults. Having head lice does not necessarily mean that the person has poor hygiene. Head lice don't carry or spread bacterial or viral infections.
Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) TreatmentsIf you are diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease (STD), you must take and observe the following precautions.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)Common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in women include gonorrhea, chlamydia, genital herpes, and HPV infection (genital warts). Learn about types, symptoms, and treatment.
STD QuizThere are more sexually transmitted diseases than just the ones you've heard of. Find out what you've been missing with the STD Quiz.
STDs in MenSymptoms of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in men include painful urination, bumps or sores on the penis, and penile discharge and itching. Learn about the most common STDs in men.
STDs Facts SlideshowSexually transmitted infections like chlamydia and genital herpes are common STDs. Think you might have an STD? You’re not alone. Find pictures of herpes, gonorrhea, and more. Learn how venereal disease can harm your health, and how to tell your partner if you have an STD.
What Are STDs?Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are diseases that a person can get by having sex with someone who has an STD.
What Are the Top 10 STDs?According to the American Social Health Organization, each year one out of four teens in the United States develops a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Half of all sexually active young adults get an STD by the age of 25 years.