Selfies could have caused a surge in cases of head lice among teenagers, according to one expert. Selfies, or pictures taken by someone holding a phone and taking a picture of themselves or themselves and someone else, run the risk of people getting head lice because of the proximity required when a selfie is taken with more than one person involved.
There has been a surge in head lice cases among teens because of the increase of those taking selfies. Usually, the condition is limited to the elementary school aged set, but because so many teens have smartphones, they are taking pictures of themselves with their friends. Mary McQuillan, who runs the head lice treatment center Nitless Noggins in Scotts Valley, California, says that she has seen a rise in the number of teens this year with the scalp condition, which can cause a fair bit of uncomfortable itching if the infestation gets bad enough.
Medical experts, however, are scratching their heads at McQuillan’s theory. They say that, according to what medical professionals have been taught about lice, it takes more than a 10-second contact between scalps to spread lice from person to person. Dermatology resident Dr. Nick Solano from USC Medical Center says doctors treating patients for lice in a clinic are not concerned about lice spreading from one patient to the next.
Other doctors believe that McQuillan’s theory is more about the spread of publicity than it is about the spread of head lice. Dr. Richard J. Pollack of the Harvard School for Public Health says that when a new lice treatment clinic opens, there are theories abound the spread of lice among the public, largely to increase traffic to these specialty clinics. Pollack notes that it is a common marketing tactic employed by lice specialty clinics.
Selfies have been a social media phenomenon, where a Selfie Olympics has even gone on, featuring teens in risky poses. Pollack says that regardless of the number of selfies being taken by teens, direct and prolonged head to head contact needs to occur.
Lice infestations tend only to hit very young children, who may be sharing head wear in drama centers in school or whose hats will be coming into close contact. Generally, it is no longer an issue when students hit high school, but McQuillan says the social media self-portrait has caused a spike in cases among adolescents.
Whether McQuillan’s concern over selfies is valid or not, the media has been sharing a great deal of humor over the claim that selfies have caused a surge in head lice cases among teens. “Pouts at the ready,” says The Independent, a UK-based paper. McQuillan says she regularly asks her teen clients whether or not they have a habit of taking selfies with their friends, and when they admit to the guilty pleasure, she cautions them and their parents about the risks she sees. The fun-filled social media self portraits have a dark side, and McQuillan wants to caution both teens and parents about the dangers. She darkly notes that, “Selfies are fun, but the consequences are real.”
By Christina St-Jean