What are crabs?
Crabs are parasites. Crabs are often referred to as pubic lice and are not to be confused with body lice. The scientific name for crabs is Pediculus pubis. Crabs need blood to survive, but they can live up to 24 hours off a human body. Crabs have three very distinct phases; egg, nit (egg or young louse), and adult louse. The louse is the stage of the parasite that causes itching. Louse is the singular for lice (like mouse and mice).
In the United States, there are an estimated 3 million cases of crabs every year.
How do people get crabs?
Sexual transmission - You can get crabs when you have skin-to-skin contact with another person. Even when there is no sexual penetration, you can get (or give) crabs.
Non-sexual transmission - You can get crabs from sleeping in an infested bed or using infested towels.
Pubic lice found on children may be a sign of sexual exposure or abuse.
Animals do not get or spread lice.
You can usually see the crabs yourself if you look closely enough. The adult pubic louse resembles a miniature crab which has six legs, but their two front legs are very large and look like the pincher claws of a crab; this is how they got the nickname “crabs.” You might need a magnifying glass to help you identify them. If you are uncertain, have a health care provider examine you. He or she may need to use a microscope.
What is the treatment for crabs?
A lice-killing lotion containing 1 percent permethrin or a mousse containing pyrethrins and piperonyl butoxide can be used to treat pubic ("crab") lice. These products are available over-the-counter without a prescription at a local drug store or pharmacy. These medications are safe and effective when used exactly according to the instructions in the package or on the label.
Lindane shampoo is a prescription medication that can kill lice and lice eggs. However, lindane is not recommended as a first-line therapy. Lindane can be toxic to the brain and other parts of the nervous system; its use should be restricted to patients who have failed treatment with or cannot tolerate other medications that pose less risk. Lindane should not be used to treat premature infants, persons with a seizure disorder, women who are pregnant or breast-feeding, persons who have very irritated skin or sores where the lindane will be applied, infants, children, the elderly, and persons who weigh less than 110 pounds.
Malathion* lotion 0.5 percent (Ovide*) is a prescription medication that can kill lice and some lice eggs; however, malathion lotion (Ovide*) currently has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treatment of pubic ("crab") lice.
Ivermectin has been used successfully to treat lice; however, ivermectin currently has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treatment of lice.
How to treat pubic lice infestations: (Warning: See special instructions for treatment of lice and nits on eyebrows or eyelashes. The lice medications described in this section should not be used near the eyes.)
Special instructions for treatment of lice and nits found on eyebrows or eyelashes:
After you are cured, you may still have some itching as a result of a skin irritation or allergic reaction. If so, you can use hydrocortisone cream. Clothes and other items that cannot be washed can be placed in a plastic bag for two weeks. Repeat treatment in seven to ten days if lice are still found.
How can crabs be prevented?
Pubic ("crab") lice most commonly are spread directly from person to person by sexual contact. Pubic lice very rarely may be spread by clothing, bedding or a toilet seat.
Should I tell my partner?
Yes. Telling a partner can be hard. It's important that you talk to your partner as soon as possible so she or he can get treatment. Also, it is possible to pass crabs back and forth. If you get treated and your partner does not, you may get infected again. You will need to wash all clothes, sheets and towels in hot water (at least 130-degrees F).
Should I tell my healthcare provider that I had crabs?
Yes. If you have one sexually transmitted disease, you may be at risk for others. You may want to ask your doctor or nurse about being tested for other STDs.
Where can I get more information?
Illinois Department of Public Health
HIV/STD Hotline 800-243-2437 (TTY 800-782-0423)
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
STD information and referrals to STD Clinics
American Social Health Association
of Public Health
535 West Jefferson Street
Springfield, Illinois 62761
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