As the school year approaches, and kids and teens prepare to share photos and videos of the summer, chronicle the days with group selfies, and generally hang out staring at small phones together, some experts are warning that these IRL social interactions could lead to lice.
Pediatrician Sharon Rink told WBAY, an ABC affiliate in Wisconsin, that she's noticed more lice in teens since selfies. "Teenagers don’t usually get lice because they’re not sharing hats and things like that. And lice can’t jump, so the only way they can transmit lice is touching their heads together, and that’s happening with all these photos," she said, adding "people are doing ‘selfies,’ like, every day."
The declaration has caused a bit of controversy. Time points out that all of the evidence presented, by Rink and others, is anecdotal. And lice outbreaks just sometimes happen among teens, even though they're more common among younger children. And Katie Shepherd, head of the Shepherd Institute for Lice Solutions, told Yahoo that the few seconds it takes to snap a group photo isn't long enough for lice to go from one head to another. But, she says, that doesn't mean smartphones don't play a role. "Kids curl up on couches together and sit head-to-head looking at videos on someone’s phone. That’s a lot more contact than you get taking a selfie."
This is not the first time that selfies and the parasite have been linked. Last year, a different lice expert—Nitless Noggins' Marcy McQuillan—told a different local outlet (SFist) that she was seeing a lot more teens with lice. She said: “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 cell phone pics."
And she, too, was rebuffed by others, who called her statement a marketing ploy to get clients at Nitless Noggins and also generally unlikely.
Still, teens, it's probably good to be careful, because lice are the worst, and treatment-resistant lice have been found in 25 states.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.