As if you didn’t have enough to worry about since the new school year started, along came “selfie lice.” In recent weeks, the Interwebs have been abuzz with fear over the latest scourge to hit our borders and it has to do with social media and those pesky little critters that tend to latch onto kids’ hair.
The concern is that gaggles of tweens and teens with smartphones are touching heads while snapping and sharing pictures of themselves, which is causing a rise in lice transmissions.
The notion gained steam earlier this summer when comments from a pediatrician in Wisconsin, who spoke about seeing a rise in lice cases among teens, went viral. Soon, experts from across the country, from cities big and small, were weighing in and saying that they, too, were alarmed about selfie lice.
It sounds bad, but there’s no need to panic. Let’s separate fact from fiction.
▪ First, experts say transmitting lice while taking a selfie is technically possible, but since lice cannot fly or jump, they’d have to crawl, and that can take a while, so you’d probably have to be head-to-head with your gal pal for longer than a few seconds.
▪ Second, there aren’t any official numbers or peer-reviewed journal articles to back up this idea. In fact, the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics show that 6 million to 12 million infestations occur each year among children 3 to 11 years of age, preschool-age to fourth grade – most of whom are too young to have cellphones.
▪ Third, Richard J. Pollack of the Harvard School of Public Health made the good point to NBC News that teens rarely have lice so they’re unlikely to spread it even if they are touching heads all the time. And the National Pediculosis Association, which advocates against pesticide treatments for lice, told the Huffington Post that even if there are some outbreaks among older kids, this happens sometimes so it’s “not new or alarming.”
On the other hand . . .
I asked Lauren Salzberg, a 47-year-old mother of three who runs a lice treatment service in Potomac, Md., her views, and she said she agrees that selfie lice isn’t the big deal everyone’s making it out to be. However, she said she believes technology in general does play a big role.
“So many kids are drawn to activities where they hover together around a screen – a computer or laptop – and their heads are touching. They are in this environment more rather than being outside on the fields where they are further apart,” she explained. Salzberg also said she’s seen cases of kids with lice who suspected it came from sharing headphones.
Beware ‘super lice’
Salzberg said the bigger problem facing parents this school year is what the media have dubbed “super lice.”
A study presented this month at the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society showed that all but five samples collected across 30 states appeared to have high resistance to pyrethroids, the active ingredient to in many over-the-counter treatments.
While alternative chemical treatments are available, Salzberg – who has treated more than 700 families since January – said that nothing compares to manual removal for effectiveness and safety. It doesn’t cost a whole lot, either.
“We tell parents if they have to buy one school supply buy a professional-grade lice comb and get into the habit of routinely checking your child. That way you be proactive and stay ahead of the game,” she said. And you don’t need to worry about those selfies, iPads or headphones.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using an over-the-counter or prescription medication to treat lice.
▪ Apply lice medicine according to instructions provided.
▪ If a few live lice are still found 8-12 hours after treatment, but moving more slowly than before, do not retreat. Comb dead and remaining live lice out of the hair using a fine–toothed nit comb. If no dead lice are found and lice seem as active as before, the medicine may not be working. Do not retreat until speaking with your health care provider.
▪ Nit (head lice egg) combs, often found in lice medicine packages, should be used to comb nits and lice from the hair shaft. Many flea combs made for cats and dogs are also effective.
▪ After each treatment, check the hair and comb with a nit comb to remove nits and lice every 2-3 days to decrease the chance of self-reinfestation. Continue to check for 2-3 weeks.
▪ Some products recommend retreatment about a week after first treatment.
▪ Clothing, bed linens and stuffed animals should also be cleaned – either washed in hot water and dried on high heat, or sealed in a plastic bag for two weeks.
Get more information at cdc.gov/parasites/lice.