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What are pubic lice?

Pubic lice — also known as crabs — are small parasites that attach to the skin and hair near your genitals. Crabs aren’t dangerous, and they’re usually pretty easy to get rid of.

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Pubic lice are super common.  

Millions of people get infected with pubic lice every year. They are tiny insects that look like tiny versions of the crabs you see at the beach. They live on the skin and coarse hairs that are around your genitals, and they feed on your blood. Pubic lice spread really easily during sexual contact.

Public lice symptoms include pretty intense itching. But even though pubic lice can be uncomfortable, they don’t cause any serious health problems. It’s usually easy to get rid of them with over-the-counter medicines.

Getting pubic lice doesn’t mean you’re dirty — it has nothing to do with hygiene or cleanliness. Anybody can get pubic lice if they have close, personal contact with someone who has them. About 3 million people in the U.S. get pubic lice every year.

How do you get pubic lice (crabs)?

Crabs are usually spread through sex, because they like to live in pubic hair. Pubic lice move easily from one person’s hairs to another person’s hairs when their genitals touch or are very close to each other.  

Most people get crabs during sex, but sometimes they’re spread through other kinds of close, personal contact. You can get pubic lice where other types of coarse hair — like eyelashes, eyebrows, chest hair, armpits, beards, and mustaches — touch places on someone’s body where crabs are. Sometimes pubic lice are spread by using an infected person’s clothes, towels, or bed.

Crabs don’t spread through quick, casual touching, like handshakes or hugs. And it’s really, really rare to get crabs from a toilet seat — crabs don’t live very long when they’re away from a human body, and they can’t hang onto smooth surfaces.

Even though crabs are into hair, they usually don’t like to hang out in the hair on top of your head. Pubic lice are different than head lice, and you usually don’t get crabs in the hair on your head. Head lice usually don’t show up in the pubic area, either.