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Lice from selfies? Yuck, but possible, expert says

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The thought of it is enough to make your skin crawl. Literally.

Still, just about everyone takes selfies, right? What else would we share on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram? Oscar host Ellen DeGeneres took a celebrity-packed, group selfie during Sunday night’s show. Even the president took one at Nelson Mandela’s funeral.

But maybe “Let’s take our picture!” should be followed by “Wait, do you have lice?” That’s because some medical professionals believe cases of head lice are on the rise due to more head-to-head contact among young people snapping pictures together.

Sheila Fassler has been a nurse for 28 years, including eight years spent as a school nurse. Just over three years ago, Fassler and her husband, who is a doctor, opened Pediatric Hair Solutions in Charlotte, N.C. Since then, the Fasslers have treated more than 4,000 patients, and Fassler says it’s not just young children getting lice. She’s now treating more teenagers and college students in seven clinics, the latest which just opened in Buckhead.

“Before, that age really wasn’t putting their heads together all that much,” Fassler said. “This is a trend. It’s new enough that there isn’t research out there.”

In the day of the smartphone, teens pose for pictures regularly, sometimes spreading the tiny bugs to each other. Fassler’s own teenage daughter and her high school cheerleading squad all had lice two years ago, and the girls’ habit of leaning in close together was the only explanation that made sense, she said.

But at least one doctor says he’s not so convinced of the increase in lice due to selfies.

“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, told NBC News. “Wherever these louse salons open a new branch, there always seems to be an epidemic. It’s good for business. “

Head lice is spread most commonly by head-to-head contact, according to Atlanta’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The parasitic insects can be found on the head, eyebrows and eyelashes of people, and live close to the human scalp, the CDC says.

The most common sign of head lice? The itching. And you’ll need to use a special over-the-counter or prescription medication to get rid of the pesky bugs to avoid passing them on to someone else. Fassler’s clinics offer a chemical-free method with a medical device that dehydrates the scalp, she said.

“The problem with head lice traditionally is people comb, and if you miss one or two eggs, it comes back,” Fassler said.

The CDC hasn’t done research to confirm whether selfies are leading to increased cases of lice, according to Jamila Jones, a public health educator. But Jones offered several tips to avoid it:

  • Avoid head-to-head (hair-to-hair) contact during play and other activities at home, school and elsewhere (sports activities, playground, slumber parties, camp).
  • Do not share clothing such as hats, scarves, coats, sports uniforms, hair ribbons or barrettes.
  • Do not share combs, brushes or towels. Disinfect combs and brushes used by an infested person by soaking them in hot water (at least 130°F) for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Do not lie on beds, couches, pillows, carpets or stuffed animals that have recently been in contact with an infested person.

 

Above all, if you think you have lice, get checked out by a medical professional or someone who knows what to look for and start treatment to avoid spreading it to others.

But does it mean no more selfies ever? Chances are, you’re probably safe snapping a quick picture of you and your best friend.

If you’re not convinced, just remember that a picture of you, and only you, will look great on Facebook, too. Skip the selfies with friends — and the bugs.

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