Are Selfies Really Causing a ‘Huge Increase’ in Head Lice?

The next time you lean in and put your head together with a friend for a “selfie,” you might want to consider what else you could be brushing up against, at least according to one expert.

Marcy McQuillan with the lice treatment center Nitless Noggins in Scotts Valley, Calif., told SFist the self-taken photographs are leading to an uptick in head lice outbreaks.

A person who worked with a lice treatment center said that selfies resulted in an uptick in lice outbreaks. Some doctors questioned this logic. (Photo credit: Shutterstock)
A person who works with a lice treatment center said that selfies have resulted in an uptick in lice outbreaks, though some doctors question the claim. (Photo credit: Shutterstock)

“I’ve seen a huge increase of lice in teens this year. Typically it’s younger children I treat, because they’re at higher risk for head-to-head contact. But now, teens are sticking their heads together every day to take cellphone pics,” McQuillan told SFist.

McQuillan cautioned that “selfies are fun, but the consequences are real.”

But are such snapshots really causing more lice outbreaks?

“This is a marketing ploy, pure and simple,” Dr. Richard J. Pollack, who teaches at the Harvard School of Public Health told NBC News. “Wherever these louse salons open a new branch, there always seems to be an epidemic. It’s good for business.”

Vanessa Mor with Lice Control in Oakland, Calif., told CNET that it “makes a lot of sense” to consider selfies in the spread of lice because they could involve head-to-head contact.

A little girl being treated for head lice. (Photo credit: Shutterstock)
Photo credit: Shutterstock

But Pollack, who also owns the pest identification company IdentifyUS, explained to NBC why the transfer of itchy lice is unlikely in these cases:

  • Teens almost never have head lice, meaning they are not likely to spread it, even if they are taking a lot of selfies. Lice is most common in children who are in kindergarten to fourth grade.
  • Lice is normally spread through “direct and prolonged head-to-head contact.” Yes, it’s theoretically possible for teens to spread lice by taking a selfie, but it would be an extremely rare occurrence. The idea of it happening enough to be considered a widespread problem is “ridiculous.”

Dr. Nick Celano, a dermatologist in Los Angeles, also told CNET that he thought the amount of time it takes to snap a selfie is not necessarily long enough to contract lice.

(H/T: Business Insider)