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Do selfies lead to head lice infestations?

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This lice took its own selfie. (Image via WebMD.com)

I got into work this morning and opened one of the most amusing press releases I’ve seen in a while. The title? “Are selfies causing head lice infestations?”

Needless to say, I continued reading.

Jennifer Schindler, Director of Franchise Relations for Lice Lifters, believes “selfies” are to blame for an increase of head lice infestations in teenagers.

“Lice are spread by head-to-head contact, so if kids have a smart phone, they’re at risk,” says Schindler.

[...]

I went through my daughter’s phone and pointed out all of the selfies she took over the weekend where she could have become infected with head lice. ‘No head-to-head contact!’ I told her,” Schindler says.  

I’m sure her daughter took that to heart.

I’m old enough to remember pay phones. I can’t believe I put my ears and mouth on those things. Can you imagine the germs on a public phone that’s been there for years and years? It’s terrifying to think about. But no one thought twice about using them. And as far as I know, I never caught cooties from one.

And that’s my story from the 20th century.

Anyhow, you’ll be shocked to know that the company that put out this press release, Lice Lifters, touts itself as “the largest lice removal franchising company in the country.” It employs an FDA-cleared medical device called AirAllé that dehydrates and kills head lice and their eggs in one treatment, “using only heated air and no chemicals.”

Schindler, who is a trained operator of the device, said last week she was treating a teenage girl who took a selfie during her treatment, and sent it to her friends.

“Her mom was wondering how her daughter got lice, and I point to what she’s doing and ask if she ever takes selfies with her friends. … I tell them it’s a pretty good chance it happened that way,” says Schindler.

I’d like to congratulate Lice Lifters’ PR person for getting me to write about this.

Lots of other people are talking about selfies and lice. This CNET article from a couple days ago casts doubt on the whole premise:

Dr. Nick Celano, a resident in dermatology at the Los Angeles + USC Medical Center, is more dubious about the connection. While it might be possible for lice to travel from one head to another, the amount of time a typical selfie takes to snap wouldn’t generally be prolonged enough for widespread transmission, he said.

“The way we’re taught,” he said of his medical schooling, “is that it takes contact for an extended period of time, and 10 seconds is not what I’d consider an extended period of time. We’re in rooms with patients that have lice, and we don’t really worry about getting it transmitted from one person to the other while in the room.”

This NBC News story also casts a cynical eye:

“This is a marketing ploy, pure and simple,” Dr. Richard J. Pollack, who teaches at the Harvard School of Public Health and runs a pest identification business called IdentifyUS, told NBC News. “Wherever these louse salons open a new branch, there always seems to be an epidemic. It’s good for business.”

[...]

“I’m trying to prevent people from over-treating,” he said. “People should not be using insecticides on their kids unless there really is a reason to use them.”

So who are you going to believe, the doctors from Harvard and USC, or the companies that offer lice removal services?

And why does my head itch?

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