Seflies May Spread Lice Among Kids During School Year

Aug 31, 2017

Selfies are fun! They are easy to take and a way that many teens use to capture a moment. But would you expect to read about selfies spreading lice?

A seemingly harmless click of a cell phone button to take a photo may indeed be increasing your child’s risk of contracting lice, a parasitic insect that lives on the human scalp.

Recent studies suggest that children with smartphones are about twice as likely to contract lice than their peers who do not own smartphones. One possible explanation is the close proximity kids are in when taking selfies. Of course, more studies are needed to confirm but it’s clear that the closeness groups come to take a selfie increases the risk of contracting the parasite.

The New York Post reports, “A new Oxford University study found that children who own smartphones are more prone to head lice. Of the 202 kids surveyed, 63 percent of kids who owned smartphones or tablets were likely to get creepy crawlers, compared to 30 percent of kids who didn’t own these gadgets.”

This information compels us to look at the facts. What is lice? How is it contracted? Keep in mind, there is still a social stigma around those who contract lice, even though it’s relatively harmless.

    Myths Include:
  • Lice Can Jump
  • Individuals with dirty hair contract lice
  • If you have long hair, you’re more likely to get lice
  • Lice can transmit disease
  • You can get lice from pets
    Facts Include:
  • There is no season for lice
  • Lice like clean or dirty hair
  • Lice do not jump or crawl
  • Lice is transmitted from head to head contact

The Telegraph states that, “In 2015, Wisconsin GP Sharon Rink coined the phrase 'social media lice', claiming the upsurge in head lice was caused by group selfies, which caused friends to bump heads.”

Because many kids (and adults) take selfies on a daily basis, and you must be in close proximity to do so, the ability to spread lice is pretty easy. This isn’t limited just to school kids, however, most lice are contracted at school simply because of the large concentration of kids together in one area. As kids and teens stand closely together, tilt their heads and begin posing for a selfie, they can also increase their risk of spreading or contracting lice.

Dr. Tess Macpherson says, “We also noted that children with smartphones or tablets were more likely to get head lice, which is interesting but we can only guess that this is due to the way that young people gather around them, though there could be other reasons.”

We know that social media has been linked with emotional and communication challenges, addiction and isolation. But now we are faced with the consideration that the social media culture is affecting our children’s physical health in a different way. We’ve thought of the precautions we need to put in place to prevent bad posture, disrupted sleep and difficulty focusing. As parents, we take exceptional efforts at protecting our kids physical and emotional wellbeing. But selfies?! Do we need to protect our kids from what seems like such an innocent act?

Matthew Gass, of the British Association of Dermatologists explains, “We're not saying that smartphones are causing children to get head lice, but that there is a link, so if there's an outbreak at home or at school, consider how electronic devices might cause children to congregate, allowing head lice to spread."

Now, it’s only fair to remind ourselves that there are many potential factors to consider for the increase in lice cases. Selfies could be playing a role but it’s also fair to remind ourselves that it’s not an exclusive relationship. Like most things, it’s our responsibility, as parents, to educate our children. Explain to them the risks associated with selfies. Children will take risks, yes, but we can also help them to be well-informed. So, if your child contracts lice this school year, by means of selfies or otherwise, consider these steps for treatment:

  • Consult with your physician
  • Consider treatment options including over the counter and/or prescription
  • Check other family members for lice
  • Wash infected bedding and clothing in hot water
  • Dry clothing and bedding on high setting