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Can You Catch Crabs Without Being Sexually Active?

Pubic Lice (commonly known as Crabs) are tiny insects that live on coarse human hair such as pubic hair. Less commonly they can also be found on underarm and leg hair, beards and moustaches, and hair on the torso. They spread via close contact, but can you catch crabs without being sexually active? Read on to learn more about Pubic Lice.

What are Pubic Lice?

Although most commonly transmitted through sex, Pubic Lice aren’t technically an STI or STD as they aren’t transmitting a disease or infection. However, Pubic Lice are a sexual health concern and should be checked for regularly, as they are just as easy to catch and transmit as infections such as Herpes and Chlamydia.

Pubic Lice are tiny insects that live on human hair. They are around 2mm long and are usually a yellow-grey or dusky red colour, however, aren’t easy to see to the naked eye. They are commonly referred to as Crabs due to having two large front legs that look like the claws of a crab. Like regular hair lice, Pubic Lice lay eggs that stick to the hair.

Can You Catch Pubic Lice Without Being Sexually Active?

Pubic Lice are spread through close bodily contact with someone that has them. They are most commonly transmitted through sexual contact, even if you practise safe sex. However, you can catch Pubic Lice without being sexually active through other close contact activities such as hugging and kissing.

Usually, Pubic Lice will only leave one body for another as they need human blood to survive. However, although rare, it is possible for Pubic Lice to be spread through the immediate sharing of unwashed clothing, towels and bedding.

Pubic Lice are not related to poor personal hygiene and cannot be contracted without coming into close contact with somebody that already has them, regardless of personal hygiene levels. Similarly, you cannot catch pubic lice from regular head lice.

What are the Symptoms of Pubic Lice?

It can take several weeks for symptoms of Pubic Lice to appear, however symptoms are the same for both men and women, and include:

Intense Itching

Itching is the most common symptom of Pubic Lice and is caused by a reaction to their saliva. It is usually worse at night as lice are more active at night. You might notice inflamed or irritated patches of skin due to scratching.

It isn’t just pubic lice that causes itching. Find out more in our recent blogs: Itchy Urethra or Penis – The Potential Causes and Why is My Vagina Itchy?

Blue Spots on the Skin

Blue spots might be visible on the skin, often on the abdomen and thighs. These are caused by Pubic Lice bites.

Small Spots of Blood on Your Skin

If you have been scratching intensely, you might see spots of blood on your skin or in your underwear.

White Specs at the Base of the Hair

Small white oval dots at the base of the hair are empty eggshells (nits). They will look similar to those of regular scalp hair lice.

Black Powder in Your Underwear

Dark brown or black powder on your skin or in your underwear is louse droppings.

How Is Pubic Lice Treated?

If you think you have Pubic Lice, seek out medical advice from a local sexual health clinic. If you don’t have one nearby, contact your GP, practise nurse, or pharmacist.

Treatment is very simple and usually involves over the counter insecticide creams, lotions or shampoos. Your GP or sexual health practitioner will advise you on which treatment to use, and how to use it effectively. You will need to repeat treatment 7 days later to get rid of any lice that may have hatched during the first treatment.

You should also ensure to decontaminate any clothing, bedding or towels that may have come into contact with the lice, and avoid close bodily contact with others, particularly sex, until the treatment is complete.

If you are, or have recently been sexually active, it’s important to notify your partner(s) so that they can be treated too.