If you think crabs are something you find at Red Lobster, stop reading this and go out to eat instead.
If you are reading this because you’ve found them on yourself, please continue.
“Crabs” is a slang term for pubic lice infestation. Under a microscope, these tiny lice look like little crabs. Most people don’t know they have pubic lice until they experience itching in the genital area, which usually takes a few weeks to begin after infestation. If you have good eyes, you may see the tiny critters crawling about. Sometimes they look like small black dots in the groin area that appear to move. Unlike head lice, it’s difficult to see the nits (eggs) on the hair shafts.
Gross, you may be thinking. How can I get rid of them NOW?
To cure pubic lice for good you have to get serious. Treating yourself is easy – but not enough.
Since pubic lice infestation is considered a sexually transmitted disease, you must treat your partner as well or you’ll get it right back. If you have crabs, so does your partner, end of story. It’s best if you’re both treated at the same time.
And, since we’re talking STD exposure, if you’ve acquired pubic lice you may have acquired a second STD and should be checked by a health professional.
As for treatment, here are 3 options: chemical treatment, shaving, and heat-killing. None of these treatments is expensive. The most expensive aspect would be seeing your doctor for an STD evaluation. If cost is a concern, contact the STD clinic at your local hospital or health department, where discounted fees are likely available.
Chemical treatment is most popular. The same chemicals that treat head lice treat pubic lice. You don’t need to see a doctor for this, although, like I said, it’s a good idea to get checked for other sexually transmitted diseases.
You can buy over-the-counter head lice treatments, such as Nix or Rid, or equivalent generics. (Check online for coupons at http://www.ridlice.com/ or http://www.nixlice.com/.) Of course, you have to treat the pubic area, not your head. Since the lice live around hair, you need to treat any hairy areas including the pubic area, the adjacent inner thighs, and back toward the buttocks. The hairier you are, the greater an area you have to treat. It is of utmost importance to leave the product on as long as the package directs you to. The chemicals don’t kill on immediate contact.
For patients uninterested in shaving or concerned about chemical use, a third option is heat treatment. The Lousebuster was developed for treatment of head lice, but could be used on other areas of the body as well. Just be sure not to burn yourself with this hot-air device. The hot air works by drying out the lice and eggs, eventually killing them through dehydration. Again, a single treatment may not be effective.
In addition to the above measures, you’ll want to wash all your bed linens, towels, and clothing in hot water. Avoid sharing these items with others, especially children. Make sure your partner does the same, and give him or her this article to read.
As with all STDs, avoiding exposure is the key to preventing infection. Before having sex, why not ask, would I want to marry this person? If the answer is no, beware!
Potential savings on crabs:
If only 100,000 Americans a year avoid pubic lice infestation as advised above, and if treatment costs $10, annual savings to America would be $1,000,000, enough to help 4,000 children receive cleft lip repair through the Smile Train.
© Cynthia J Koelker, MD – All rights reserved
For a medical article on lice, visit: www.aafp.org/afp/2004/0115/p341.html
- Of lice and men: An itchy history (scientificamerican.com)