Posted: Mar 10, 2014 10:00 AM
 
If you're a parent to a teen, tween or child of any age who loves taking photos of themselves head to head with their friends, you've surely heard the recent buzz about selfies leading to lice infestations. So do we really have to ban our kids from taking these popular close-up shots? Not so fast...

How lice spreads

Head-to-head contact is the most likely way to contract lice from another individual. Lice do not jump or hop, rather they crawl from one head to another when the heads are proximal.

Dr. Ryan Welter, board certified family physician and founder of New England Center for Hair Restoration in North Attleboro, Massachusetts, says, "Head-to-head contact is the most likely way to contract lice from another individual. Lice do not jump or hop, rather they crawl from one head to another when the heads are proximal."

However, lice is generally not spread unless contact remains for a prolonged period of time. Dr. Welter adds, "Selfies therefore are theoretically a possible means of transmission of head lice given that hair contact is made between the heads in the photo and that sufficient time is given for exposure to occur. I am not aware of any official reporting of contracting lice via a selfie, but certainly the possibility exists. It is not likely to occur if the typical head tilt doesn't result in contact or is very brief."

Don't buy into the hype

Dr. Amy B. Hollingsworth, biologist and natural science biology lab coordinator at the University of Akron, goes so far as to say the recent buzz about selfies leading to head lice is "a fake story, propagated by lice-removal services. It is not supported by research data from health organizations. Don't believe pseudo-science." She notes that lice is not very common in teens anyway and is generally spread among family members who share beds, headphones, hairbrushes or hats versus among friends taking photos together.

Prevention and education

Ilene Steinberg, co-founder of The Center For Lice Control, agrees that parents need not buy into the recent "scare tactics" about lice spreading from selfie photos. However, since she notes that 90 percent of lice cases are indeed spread from head-to-head contact, she does feel it is important for parents to educate themselves (and their children) about prevention.

She says, "If you're being proactive and doing a combing head check, you don't have to worry — just be aware." The site offers video tutorials on how to check for nits, which are "the eggs that cement themselves to the hair," according to Steinberg.

It is important for parents to communicate with other parents if their child has lice and help educate others on how to do a combing head check to catch it before it spreads.

She adds, "Kids have head-to-head contact all the time that we don't realize. Lice spreads more from product failure and lack of education than from selfies."

She also adds that there needn't be a stigma surrounding lice (or the person who has contracted it) that it's dirty or gross and it must be kept a secret. Steinberg says, "No one tells anyone and then it spreads at a sleepover and goes from one girl having it to five. It is important for parents to communicate with other parents if their child has lice and help educate others on how to do a combing head check to catch it before it spreads. "

So take a deep breath — you don't have to ban your kids from taking selfies with their best friends. (Phew!) Just be sure to check their heads to ensure they stay nit-free!

More child health and development

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When change signals trouble in your teen
Household drugs and your teen: A prescription for addiction?

Photo credit: ONOKY - Brooke Auchincloss/ Brand X Pictures/ Getty Images

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