Does the ‘Selfie’ Put Your Teen at Risk for Lice?

What you need to know about these critters
Does the ‘Selfie’ Put Your Teen at Risk for Lice?

Contributor: Roopa Thakur, MD

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With social media came “selfies,” and they are everywhere. The variously styled self-portraits of one or more people, whose heads rest close together, has introduced an interesting question: Does the “selfie” put teens at increased risk for lice?

Although this topic has gotten quite a bit of media attention, there is currently no evidence that justifies this concern.

An estimated 6 to 12 million infestations occur in the country each year among preschool and elementary school children (3 to 11 years of age), according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). However, data on teenagers and young adults — the ones who take most of the “selfies” — is not generally collected. This is because these young people do not typically get lice.

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My personal experience supports this. I can say that neither myself nor my colleagues have seen any increase in lice in the children and young adults we treat in our practices.

Is my teen at risk?

The short answer is: No. It would be very unlikely. Here’s why:

  • Teens rarely carry lice, and you can’t spread something you don’t have in the first place. Lice infestation is most common in 3- to 10-year-old children.
  • Lice crawl rather than fly or jump. This means that you need prolonged head-to-head contact to spread them. The limited moments of head-to-head contact involved in taking a “selfie” makes the spread of lice during this practice very unlikely.

Should I have my child treated just in case?

Overtreatment is potentially more dangerous than an infestation of lice resulting from taking “selfies.” The products and services (such as local “lice clinics”) used to commonly treat lice can cause your child significant side effects and discomfort, and they can cost a great deal of money.

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It’s also more likely that you’ll confuse dandruff, dried hair products, and dead skin — all side effects of treatment — for lice and nits, resulting in prolonged and unnecessary treatment. What’s more, mistaking the problem for lice can cause your child to miss school for no reason. It can also create stigma and embarrassment for your child.

This is why it’s important to see your healthcare provider for a definitive diagnosis. If in doubt, the best resource is your pediatrician or family doctor, who can  ensure that you avoid unnecessary treatment and expense.

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