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Crabs (pubic lice)

crabs; pubic; lice; sexually; transmitted; disease; young people; people; youth;teenager; body lice; louse; pubic lice; sexually transmitted infections; infections; sexually transmitted diseases; pediculosis ;


Crabs are tiny little lice that cause a lot of itching around the genitals, in the pubic hair and sometimes other coarse body hair (such as under arm hair). They're called crabs because they have little crab like legs that they use to hang on to the hair.

They are usually spread by close body contact including sexual activity. However they can live off the body for several hours, clinging to towels, underwear and even sheets and blankets. They are different to head lice and do not live in head hair - though they sometimes can live in beards!


If you suspect you have an Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI), don't give it to others - keep it to yourself, and get tested and treated quickly.

How can you tell if you have them?

Usually the first sign is being very itchy. They bite the skin and there can be red itchy lumps or scratch marks on the skin. If you look hard you can see them. They are light brown or grey. They might look like little freckles at first - that is, until you see them go walkies. If you look harder, you'll see the little eggs attached to the pubic hair.

How do you get rid of them?

To get rid of crabs a special lotion from a chemist shop (pharmacy) is used - check with your doctor or pharmacist to find out which is the best one. Everyone who has had intimate contact with a person with crabs needs to be treated. Otherwise the crabs will continue to make their 'home sweet home' in the coarse body hair of anyone else who comes into close contact with those people.

There are instructions on the bottle about how to use the lotion. You will need to cover all of your skin from your chest down to your knees with the lotion. You'll need to wash clothes, bedding and towels that you have used in the past 2 days in hot water. Dry cleaning also works.

Repeat the treatment 7 days later.

Avoiding crabs

Using condoms isn't enough to prevent these little fellas because they live in the pubic hair that isn't covered by the condom. Any close contact with crabs can lead to you getting them. It is also possible that you can get them by using someone else's towel or sleeping in their bed if they have crabs. The only sure way is not to have close contact with anyone who has crabs.

Resources in South Australia

South Australia


Better Health Channel (Victoria) - 'Pubic lice'

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor or other health professional.
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