Yes. In the United States, there are an estimated three million cases of crabs every year.
Crabs – also called pubic lice – are small parasites. They have six legs, with the two in front, resembling the pincher claws of a crab. They may be whitish-gray or rust colored. Although crabs come from the same family as head and body lice, they aren’t the same.
They attach themselves to pubic hair and can also be found in arm pits, facial hair and sometimes in eyebrows and eyelashes. They lay their eggs on hair shafts close to the skin and take seven to ten days to hatch. Crabs need blood to survive and can live up to 24 hours off a human body.
Crabs have three very distinct phases. The first phase is the egg or nit. They are small, oval-shaped and pearl-like in color. The second is the nymph. The third phase is the louse or adult crab. This is the stage that causes itching.
You can get crabs whenever your coarse body hair comes into contact with someone’s infected coarse hair. Most cases of crabs are transmitted through sexual contact, but you can get and give crabs even without sexual penetration. And guess what? Condoms don’t protect you against crabs.
Here’s more bad news. Nonsexual transmission of crabs is also possible. You can get them from infested sheets, towels and clothing.
The most common symptom is itching in the pubic area. This is caused by an allergic reaction to the bites and usually starts five days after being infected. You can usually see the crabs and/or eggs if you look closely. If you aren’t certain, have a health care provider examine you. Dark or bluish spots – results of the bites – can last several days in the infested area.
Treating crabs can be fairly easy. There are a number of medications available with and without a prescription. Typically they’re cream rinses or shampoos that are applied to the affected area and washed off after several minutes. Dead crabs may still be attached to the hair, so it’s wise to use a fine tooth comb or your nails to remove them.
Also wash and dry all clothes and linens in really hot water. If they can’t be washed, place them in a plastic bag for two weeks. Repeat the whole process if necessary.
If you have one sexually transmitted disease (STD) like crabs, you could be at risk for others. Ask your doctor about getting tested for other STDs.
Stacy Lloyd is a writer and video producer. A former television news journalist, she covered stories around the world. Currently, she produces corporate and non-profit videos and broadcast programming.