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Crabs: Not a Day at the Beach

By , 18, Staff Writer Originally Published: April 18, 2007 Revised: July 22, 2014

When you learn that they like warm places and come in big groups, pubic lice, or “crabs,” don’t sound that bad. For a sexually transmitted disease (STD), they’re not too dangerous and far from fatal. So, why talk about these little, annoying parasites?

First of all, crabs are highly contagious. And if you don’t think they’re a problem, you should know that there are about three million cases a year in the United States alone, according to the American Social Health Association.

Getting to Know Crabs

Crabs are tiny parasitic insects that need blood to survive. These crabs don’t emerge from the beach; they’re usually found in the genital area. They like warm, moist, hairy places, especially with pubic, chest, or underarm hair. Crabs have three life stages: the egg (or “nit”), baby (or “nymph”), and adult. Adult crabs are about the size of the letter O.

Skin-to-skin contact is all that crabs need to change homes and move to another body. So this STI cannot be prevented by any contraceptive method, save for abstinence. Crabs are also transmitted through infested clothing, bed linens, or towels. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s unlikely that someone can get crabs from sitting on a toilet seat, since crabs don’t have feet to hold on to a smooth surface and can’t live for long away from a warm, human body.

Skin-to-skin contact is all that crabs need to change homes and move to another body.

What to Do if You Have Crabs

So, how do you know if crabs have come to town? Common symptoms include intense itching in the genital area or anus; mild fever; and a run-down feeling. But some people don’t itch but realize they’re infested. They might see yellowish crab nits (eggs) near the base of hairs, or nymph or adult crabs crawling in the infested area.

It’s important to see a health care provider if you think you have crabs. They are usually treated with an over-the-counter lice shampoo or medication, or through prescription medication. All clothes, linens, and towels infested with crabs must be washed in hot water at least 125 degrees Fahrenheit.

Are crabs a problem among teenagers?

“They’re not a particularly huge problem,” says Leslie Kantor, vice president of education at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “They are, however, very transmissible. Even though this STD is not even close to being as severe as chlamydia, it can still create problems. It’s important to follow treatment instructions thoroughly.”

So, remember, if you don’t want to cope with the headache of crabs, you have to be careful. Keep your “beach” closed to the public. Don’t allow strangers to go there, or you might be left with unwanted visitors.

Editor’s Note: For confidential information about STDs, including clinic referrals, call the National STD Hotline at 1-800-227-8922. You can call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Or check out

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