Three million Americans become infested with pubic lice each year so here's are five facts about crabs. Even though they are very common, they are relatives of regular lice and similarly easy to get rid of. Let’s learn more about these invasive little creepy crawlies to keep them off your body.
- What They Are and What They Want: Crabs are a parasitic insect—what this means is that to survive, they need to find a nice spot to dig in and feed on your blood, which makes up their entire diet. They are sometimes referred to as public lice or fullers, but their official name is Phtirius pubis. While they are most known for infesting humans’ private bits, they have also been known to shack up on gorillas.
- What They Look Like: Crab lice are small insects—about a millimeter across. Adults are either brown or white, and often turn grey as they age. They are flightless and look like ticks. Lice eggs, called nits, cling to hair follicles and are yellowish white.
- How You Get Them: Crabs are transmitted through coming into close contact with someone who already has them. Sex is the most frequent form of this “close contact,” but there are other ways. Oral sex can pass crabs along and usually they end up in the eyebrows, eyelashes or beard. Crabs can also be transmitted through clothing, beds, towels and closets, but can’t live for very long away from a warm body. Make sure the people you are sleeping with or sharing clothing and linens with are healthy and bug-free. Make sure you tell anyone who you were in close contact with while you were infested that you may have given them lice. This includes anyone who lives in your house and anyone you slept with.
- How to Know If You Have Them: The most common symptom of an infestation of crab lice is intense itching. The itching is caused by the saliva the crabs release into your body when they bite you. Human bodies are hypersensitive to this saliva and develop bruises and itching as a reaction. The substance itself is not harmful to your body, but the itching is first indicator of an infestation. Crab lice are easy to diagnose because they are visible. Crab lice like areas of the human body covered in coarse hair (usually the pubic area), but men in particular can have crabs in their happy trail, armpit hair and beards as well. Kids usually get them only in their eyelashes. Check these areas to see if you can see anything moving or if you see nits attached to hair follicles. Another less common sign that there may be an infestation is tiny bruises, usually purple or blue, where a louse has caused an allergic reaction by biting into the skin.
- How to Get Rid of Them: To get rid of crabs, first wash the infested areas with permethrin 1% cream rinse (a synthetic insect repellent) and pyrethrins (a natural insecticide made from a flower extract). These treatments are the safest available. Let the creams sit in the hair for a good ten minutes before rinsing them out. The next step is to comb through the hair with a fine tooth comb. This is simplified by trimming the infested hair. Combing gets all the dead lice and nits out of the hair. Ten days after this first treatment, do it again to assure that the lice infestation has been snuffed out. Make sure to quarantine any undergarments, sheets and towels that may have been exposed to the lice in a plastic bag. Seal it as airtight as possible and let it sit for up to fifteen days. This thorough cleansing will make sure that no nits survived.
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