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Diseases & Conditions

Pubic Lice (Crabs)

(Also Called 'Crabs')

What are pubic lice?

Pubic lice or crabs (Pediculosis pubis) are tiny insects that live in the pubic hair and other hairy areas of the body, except 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.

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?

  • 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

How are pubic lice treated?

Pubic lice 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. You must also wash your clothes, bed linens and towels in the hot cycles of your washer and dryer. (Heat kills the insects.) It is not necessary to spray your clothes or household objects with an insecticide.

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.

Where can I learn more?

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Can't find the health information you’re looking for?

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: 1/26/2010...#4522