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How Do You Get Crabs?

Crabs are most commonly spread through sexual contact when the tiny parasites pass from one person’s pubic hair to another’s. Also known as pubic lice, crab infestations are extremely contagious. About 3 million cases are diagnosed in the United States each year.

How Crabs Spread

Most, but not all, cases of crabs are sexually transmitted. You can get them from:

  • Sexual intercourse with an affected partner.
  • Any sexual or skin-to-skin activity in which your body comes in direct contact with infested pubic hair (or, less commonly, armpit or facial hair).
  • Using infested clothes, towels, or bed linens or sharing these items with an affected individual.

Sexual partners can spread crabs back and forth repeatedly if they don’t treat the infestation. Fortunately, you and your health care provider can treat these parasites easily using medicated lotions and shampoos.

Who Can Get Crabs?

Anyone can get crabs. Contrary to some people’s beliefs, crabs are not a sign of poor hygiene. The lice most commonly affect adults.

How to Prevent Crabs

To reduce your chances of getting crabs:

  • Communicate with your sexual partner(s) about any signs of lice, itching, or bite marks in the pubic area.
  • Avoid having sexual contact with affected individuals until they’ve been treated and the infestation has resolved.
  • Avoid sharing clothing, towels, or linens with affected individuals.
  • Wash any affected clothing, towels, and linens in very hot water (at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit), and dry them on high heat.
  • If your sexual partner has crabs, recommend he or she get treated as soon as possible to break the cycle of spread.
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