"Crabs" or Pubic Lice
Information here is general in nature. You should always consult a health professional for health problems.
"Crabs" or Pubic Lice, are tiny parasitic insects which generally live on pubic hair and bite your skin to get blood.
Causes and Symptoms:
Getting "Crabs" is technically an "infestation" rather than an infection, because the pubic lice are not a virus or bacteria but tiny parasitic insects.
Pubic Lice are generally spread through sexual contact. You may not even realise you have them for two or three weeks after being exposed to them. Less common is an infestation from being in close contact with the bed clothes, clothing or towels of someone else who has pubic lice. Because lice can neither grip a toilet seat, nor can they live for long away from their human host, getting "crabs" (pubic lice) from a toilet seat is highly unlikely if not impossible. It's pretty easy to get an infestation if you come into close contact with the lice through sex, or intimate clothing/bedding of someone who has them.
A condom will not protect you from "crabs" because they live in the pubic hair which is not covered by a condom. Shaving pubic hair will not necessarily protect you or get rid of them once you have them. However, they are relatively easy to treat- see "Treatment" below.
Symptoms: Itching and irritation in the genital area. You can, if you look carefully, see the eggs (called nits), and/or the pubic lice crawling around. They are usually found in pubic hair in the genital area. They may sometimes be found on other coarse body hair like leg or armpit hair, even, rarely, in moustaches or beards or eyelashes or eyebrows. They should not be confused with head lice, which are only found in the head hair.
Here is a photo (courtesy of Medline-plus) of what you may see on your skin and pubic hair.
There are three stages in the louse's life cycle.("Lice" is just the plural form of louse. By the way, the slang "Crabs" comes from the crab-like appearance of pubic lice.) The "nit" is the egg. They are very tiny, hard to see, and usually white or off-white in colour. Nits hatch in about a week. Then they look like small versions of the adult, but at this point they are called Nymphs. Such a gentle name for such a lousy insect! The nymphs must suck your blood to live and grow into adults, which takes about another week. The adults also suck blood-in fact, if they fall off, they'll die in a day or two. The adults are still quite small, but you can see them clearly with a magnifying glass. The colour runs from light brown to grey-ish white. The females are slightly larger and they'll be running around laying more eggs. These little guys are afraid of light so they may be hard to see them under a strong light. But even if you can't see the adults, you may see the nits. If you are unsure, see a health care provider.
You can get lice killing shampoo without a prescription from any drug store. Usually they contain an insecticide called permethrin or pyrethrin, or sometimes malathion. Follow the directions exactly. There is a stronger medication called Lindane, which is only available by prescription and should not be used on children under 2, or on pregnant women.
Follow the directions with the medication very carefully. In general, this is what you'll be doing:Wash the infested area, usually your pubic area. See "Symptoms" above for other areas that may be infested. Apply the medication according to the instructions. You'll leave it there between 4 and 10 minutes depending on the kind of medication. Rinse thoroughly with water and dry off with a clean towel. Remove nits that will still be stuck there, with your fingernails. Put on clean underwear-you don't want to get re-infested! Speaking of that, you also want to kill off all lice and nits that may be in your clothing and bedding. Anything that has been worn or slept in or used (like towels) by the infested person(s) in the past two or three days should be washed in the hot water cycle of your washing machine. Use as hot a setting on the clothes dryer as possible. If it can't be washed it must be dry cleaned. (As a courtesy to the dry cleaners, I'd suggested sealing the clothing in a plastic bag for three days before handing them lice infested clothing.) Next, inform anyone you had sexual contact with or who may have slept in your bed or shared a towel that they may have picked up lice. Whatever length of treatment is called for, do not have sex until after treatment is finished.
A condom will not prevent the spread of pubic lice.
Do not use the medication near your eyes! To treat eyebrows/lashes, try to remove any nits with your fingernails or a "nit comb", available at pharmacies. If you find nits on the eyelashes, ask your doctor about a prescription for ophthalmic grade petroleum jelly. It is not like the common Vaseline-type petroleum jelly, which will irritate your eyes. Since you'll likely have to use it twice a day for up to ten days, you need the right stuff.