Pubic lice are parasitic insects that typically infest the hair surrounding the genital areas. They can attach to coarse body hair on the arms, legs, armpits, eyebrows, and eyelashes. Also referred to as "crabs" because of their pincers, these lice can cause itchiness and irritation in those infected. Genital crabs are one of the most common sexually transmitted infections with more than 3 million cases occurring in the United States every year. Genital crabs can be treated with prescription lotions or shampoos as well as over-the-counter remedies.
Type of STD Infection: Parasite
Modes of Transmission: Pubic crabs are easily transmitted between sexual partners. Any close contact with an infected person can result in you contracting the parasite. If your sexual partner is infested with pubic crabs, you have a 95% chance of becoming infected yourself. Pubic lice can also be transmitted within families as the lice can live for short periods of time on bedding, towels, and clothing. However, this type of transmission is unlikely, as crabs can only live for 48 hours without human blood. Genital crabs are common in cramped quarters and can run rampant in hostels, military bases, and anywhere where large numbers of people are in close contact with one another.
Symptoms of Crabs
Symptoms: Crabs symptoms include itching and irritation in the genital area. Since crabs live off of your blood, you may find bluish spots where the crabs have been feeding. Dark spots may also be visible on your skin or underwear. These spots are the crab feces and indicate a definite infestation. Additionally, you may be able to see genital crabs crawling around in your pubic hair or find nits (eggs) close to the bottom of the pubic hair shaft. It is also common to experience a slight fever and feel irritated and run down when you have a pubic lice infestation.
Treatment For Crabs
Treatment: Genital crabs are easily treated through prescription or over-the-counter shampoos. In order to combat the infestation, follow the directions on the shampoo carefully. It is important to clean any clothes, bedding, and linens that have may have been infested. Any items that can't be washed should be dry cleaned or stored in a plastic bag for a few days. This will kill any pubic crabs that may be present. To treat pubic crabs that have infested the eyebrows or eyelids, use a specially prescribed lotion that is safe for the eyes.
Risks With Crabs
Complications: Genital crabs are generally not associated with any severe medical consequences. They are annoying, and may cause skin irritation or infection. Call your doctor if you are experiencing unusual discharge from the penis or vagina, or if your skin exudes any pus.
Consequences in Infants: Pubic crabs present no complications to a baby during or immediately after birth. Pregnant women with crabs should inform their doctors and be careful about any treatments they select. Certain medications should not be used during pregnancy or when breastfeeding, as they may harm your baby. Certain shampoos should be avoided during pregnancy, and shampoos or lotions should be removed from the nipples before breastfeeding
Risk Factors: Pubic crabs are a very common sexually transmitted infection. If you are having sex, then you are at a risk for infection. Those who have unprotected sex or who have multiple partners are at an increased risk as well. Additionally, pubic crabs are highly associated with other STDs; 30% of people infested with pubic lice also have other sexually transmitted diseases. If you live in cramped or confined quarters, or share linens with other people, you are also at increased risk of genital crab infection.
Prevention: In order to prevent contracting crabs, abstain from sex, or practice safe sex. Don't have multiple sex partners as this will increase your risk of infection. Practice good hygiene habits and avoid sharing bedding, towels, or clothing with others. Wear underwear when trying on lingerie and bathing suits.
Learn more about pubic lice (crabs) with facts and photos at STDs in Color.