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What Are Crabs?

By B. Schreiber
Updated May 17, 2024
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Crabs are a type of sexually transmitted disease (STD) that are also known as pubic lice or genital crabs. Like head lice, they are a type of parasite that can attach themselves to the hair of men and women. Unlike head lice, though, pubic lice attach to body hair, which in addition to pubic hair can include include arm, leg, and underarm hair. Crabs are a relatively harmless type of STD that cause itching or inflammation in the affected areas. Treatment is fairly simple and consists of medicated shampoos, usually available without prescription, that kill the lice and their eggs.

Genital crabs are parasitic creatures that feed on human blood, scientifically known as Pediculosis pubis. They are extremely easy to transmit through sexual activity because they can spread from skin to skin contact. Since they are passed on through direct physical contact, they are unaffected by condoms. Public lice can live away from a host for a short time and may therefore spread through contact with undergarments, clothing, or bedding.

The most common symptom of having contracted crabs is itching in the genital region. Although quite small, the crabs themselves may be visible crawling at times and have usually have a dark gray color. Their egg sacs often appear as tiny white or yellow specks attached to individual hair shafts. Blue marks on the skin can appear at sites where crabs have bit the skin to feed. More serious symptoms are rare but could include skin swelling similar to other bug bites or raw skin caused by frequent scratching.

Treatment of pubic lice involves using specially formulated shampoos or creams that are usually left on the affected areas for a period of about 10 minutes before being washed off. These treatments kill the lice as well as their eggs to prevent the infestation from recurring. Such treatment are available over the counter, although some preparations require a doctor's prescription. Shampoos should be applied to all regions of the body where symptoms have occurred, not just the pubic area. Follow the manufacturer's instructions to avoid irritating any sensitive surfaces of the genitals.

Pubic lice can easily return to the body if infested objects such as clothing or bedsheets are not washed. Washing any bedding or clothes that were worn prior to treatment will help to avoid a recurrence. Practicing safe sex habits aimed at reducing the incidence of all STDs may lessen the likelihood of contracting crabs.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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