Anonymous on August 9, 2011

Are “crabs” an STD? How do you catch them, and what are the treatment options?

Are “crabs” an STD? How do you catch them, and what are the treatment options? 

answered by Lisa Oldson, MD on August 9, 2011

Thanks for your interest in taking care of your sexual health.

Yes, “crabs” are an STD. Crabs, or pubic lice, are parasitic insects that are particularly fond of the coarse hair found in the pubic area, and can sometimes be found in other hairy areas of the underarms, mustaches, eyebrows and eyelashes. When you look at pubic lice under a microscope, they look a little like real crabs, which is how they got their name.

How are crabs passed from person to person? Pubic lice are usually spread from one person to another through sexual contact. Even if there’s no sexual penetration, you can get crabs through skin-to-skin contact with someone who’s infected. It’s also possible to get pubic lice from wearing infested clothing, sleeping in an infested bed, or using contaminated towels or other linens.

The good news is that pubic lice can be treated and cured with over-the-counter, or prescription topical lotions or mousses. Talk to your doctor about what treatment is right for you. Typically, In keeping with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s a good idea to look for a lotion treatment with “1% permethrin,” or a mousse with “pyrethrins and piperonyl butoxide.”

After treatment, using a fine-toothed comb or tweezers, you’ll want to pick out the louse eggs to make sure they won’t hatch and re-infect you. Prior to treatment, you should also wash your clothing and bedding at 130º F. For more specifics about treatment and prevention options, see my recommendations.

If you do have crabs, getting tested for other STDs may be a good idea. Many people with pubic lice have also been exposed to an STD. And because many STDs don’t show symptoms immediately, getting tested is the only way to know your status for sure. Many STDs are curable and all are the sooner you know your status, the sooner you can start treatment, if needed, and potentially avoid more serious complications down the road.

For more information about STD risk factors, symptoms, complications, testing and treatment, you can browse through our Expert Guide to STD Basics.  

Thanks for your question, and here’s wishing you the best of health!

Related info:

Lisa Oldson, MD

Dr. Oldson is Medical Director of the Analyte Physicians Group. She is on staff at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, as well as Clinical Instructor at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University. Her areas of expertise include STDs (with a particular clinical emphasis on herpes), women's health, preventive medicine, diabetes, obesity and weight management, and mood and anxiety disorders. Dr. Oldson was educated at Rush Medical College and completed her residency at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, IL.

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