Let me put you out of your misery and answer this question straightaway — no, selfies are not in fact causing a spike in a supercharged head lice breakout, despite what some may have you believe. Of course, with headlines like “Selfies are causing a rise in MUTANT head lice” and so-called expert testimony on the matter, it’s easy to get confused.
But the National Pediculosis Association, the body that knows about all things lice-related, told the Huffington Post that while lice can be found across the nation, as they can every year, there’s no evidence to suggest that the condition is disproportionately affecting teenagers who really like their front-facing cameras and their selfie sticks.
While the fact that lice in 25 states are now resistant to over-the-counter medications is probably some cause for concern, you don’t have to completely abandon the practice of selfies to avoid contracting the annoying bug. Sure, a lot of the factors that often lead to the transmission of lice (putting your heads together, being in extremely close proximity to one another, etc.) are present in typical selfie protocol, but they’re also present in a lot of other activities teens engage in on a regular basis.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), between six and twelve million children between the ages of three and eleven end up with a case of lice every year in the U.S. But they’re particularly susceptible not because they’re camera divas, but because they experience “close contact in cars, during sleepovers, or sharing headphones.” And these interactions often last much longer than the quick selfie experience.
So despite pediatrician Dr. Sharon Rink’s claims that “social media lice” are caused by the frequent occurrence of selfies (she told a local Wisconsin news station, “People are doing selfies like every day, as opposed to going to photo booths years and years ago. So you’re probably having much more contact with other people’s heads”), there doesn’t appear to be as much cause for concern regarding this particular activity as she would have you believe.
Still, certain new technologies, like mobile devices, may play some role in the spread of lice. As Katie Shepherd of the Shepherd Institute for Lice Solutions, a research and education nonprofit, told Yahoo! Parenting, “Lice can move 9 inches in a minute’s time. 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.”
So be smart, kids. To avoid lice, keep your heads on your shoulders, and a good distance away from your friends’ heads.