Pubic lice, or crabs as they are often called, are a parasites that live on coarse human hair, like pubic hair. They can also live in leg and armpit hair, but not in the hair on your head. They are most commonly passed on through sexual contact. The main symptom is itching but there are other uniques symptoms as well.

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Who is Affected by Crabs?

Anyone can get crabs, regardless of their gender identity and/or sexual orientation. They are spread through sexual contact, so if you have more sexual partners, you are more at risk. There is no data to show that if you shave, wax or get rid of your pubic hair you are less likely to get pubic lice.

How is it Transmitted?

Crabs cannot jump or fly, so the only way they can move from person to person is through direct contact. This can be through sex, sexual contact or through hugging if both people are naked. In rare cases they have been passed on through towels and bedding, but crabs cannot live off of the body for long periods of time so this is incredibly rare.

Using a condom will not protect you against crabs as they are not passed on by fluids, but by travelling along the hairs. There is also no data to suggest that shaving, waxing or removing your hair can protect you from pubic lice.

What are the Symptoms?

The main symptom of crabs is itching, which gets worse at night when the lice become more active. Other symptoms also include:

  • inflamation or irritation caused by scratching
  • Black powder in your underwear
  • Blue spots or small spots of blood on your skin in your groin, caused by lice bites

You may also be able to see the crabs, or their egg sacs which they attach to the hairs, but these are very small so they are not always visible.

Testing and Treatment

If you think you have crabs, you can go to your GP, or to a sexual health clinic and they are easy to diagnose. The doctor or nurse will take a look at the area, and may use a magnifying glass to help see if there are any lice or egg sacs. in your pubic hair.

If you do have crabs we would recommend you also get tested for other STIs at a sexual health clinic. The lice cannot pass on HIV or other STIs, but it is still recommended as it is worth getting a check-up anyway.

If you do have crabs, it is easy to treat at home. You will usually get prescribed a special shampoo or insecticide lotion. Some treatments only need applying to infested areas, but others you have to put all over your body. Usuallyyou have to treat more than once, so be sure to check the instructions and ask your GP or pharmacist if you are unsure.

If you identify as a gay, bi or any other man who has sex with men, then you can get tested at LGBT Foundation through our full sexual health screening clinic in partnership with The Northern. For more information on when and where to get tested, visit lgbt.foundation/testing