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Diseases & Conditions

Pubic Lice (Crabs)

(Also Called 'Crabs')

What are pubic lice?

Pubic lice (Pediculosis pubis), also called “crabs,” are tiny insects that live in the pubic hair (hair below the navel) and other hairy areas of the body, except the scalp. Only rarely can pubic lice be found on the scalp.

How do you get pubic lice?

Crabs are spread by having close physical contact with someone who has them. They are most often spread by sexual contact, but they can also be caught by having contact with infested clothing, bed linens, and toilet seats. You can get crabs more than once. If you are diagnosed with pubic lice, it is important to get checked for other sexually transmitted infections at the same time.

How can I know if I have pubic lice?

Seeing the crabs is the best way to know for sure. Pubic lice are about the size of a pinhead and can be difficult to see. They look like tiny little gray crabs.

What are the symptoms of pubic lice?

Symptoms include:

  • Severe itching in hairy areas, especially pubic hair
  • Tiny red specks of blood in the underwear
  • Small white dots on the pubic hair that are hard to remove
  • Pale bluish spots on the thighs, buttocks, or lower abdomen

How are pubic lice treated?

Crabs are treated by washing the infested area with a special shampoo. Shampoos that kill lice (such as RID [pyrethrin] and A-200) are available without a prescription. Follow the directions on the bottle, but for crabs. Do not use the shampoo on your scalp; use it on your pubic hair instead. It is important to check for lice in the hair under the arm, and other hairy areas of the body including eyelashes. The treatment is applied to all areas of suspected involvement, which includes the area near the rectum, thighs, trunk (lower abdomen/buttocks), and under arms. You must also wash your clothes, bed linens and towels in the hot cycles of your washer and dryer (the heat kills the insects). It is not necessary to spray your clothes or household objects with an insecticide. After treatment it is important to abstain from sexual intercourse until it is clear that the infection is resolved, ideally at least 2 weeks. Treatment needs to be repeated in 9 to 10 days if the lice remain.

You should contact your doctor about the best way to treat lice in your eyelashes, which is treated differently than the lice in the pubic or underarm area. Prescription topical and oral treatments are also available from your doctor.

How can I prevent crabs?

The best way to prevent crabs is to make sure that your partner does not have crabs. Also, try to avoid trying on bathing suits. If you have to try a bathing suit on, be sure to wear underwear.


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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 12/11/2014...#4522