What are crabs?

Crabs are also called pubic lice and are easy to pick up. The lice are small, crab-shaped insects that are the size of a pin-head when fully grown. They live on body hair and feed on blood (but they cannot pass on HIV).

The lice can be found:

• in the hair around your genitals (testicles, penis and anus)

• on underarm hair, hairy legs and chests

• sometimes in eyebrows and hair on the face

They aren't found in hair on your head.

Crabs are passed on by:

• body contact during sex

• using towels, bedding or clothes of someone with crabs (this isn't common but it can happen)

So if someone has crabs, it doesn't necessarily mean they got them by having sex with someone else.

How are crabs prevented?

There's no way of stopping yourself getting crabs. But if you have them you can prevent them spreading by:

• making sure people who've shared your bed, towels or clothes are also treated

• washing your bedding, towels and clothes on a hot wash (60 degrees or hotter) which kills the lice and their eggs

• dry-cleaning leather clothing or sealing it in a plastic bag for two weeks.

No-one's immune to crabs. If you've had them before, you can get them again.

How do I know if I have crabs?

You could have crabs and not notice them. But two to three weeks after infection the lice usually cause itching, especially at night, and sometimes cause a rash.

You can often see fully-grown lice on the hair, but probably not if you've just been infected.

How are crabs treated?

Treating crabs is cheap and easy, and can be done at home using a lotion that can be bought from a chemist without a prescription or you can get lotions free at a sexual health clinic. You put the lotion over your whole body (but not on your head or face), leave it on for 24 hours and pick off any lice you see left on your body.  Some treatments need to be repeated after 7 days.

If the treatment doesn't work ask at a sexual health clinic for advice.

Shaving off pubic hair will not get rid of crabs.

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