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Expert Claims Selfies Are Spreading Head Lice Infestations

Benjamin Fearnow
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People leaning their heads together to pose for selfies. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

People leaning their heads together to pose for selfies. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

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ATLANTA (CBS ATLANTA) – People leaning their heads together to pose for selfies can capture memories from all across the globe – but they may just be capturing head lice.

Lice-treatment experts in California claim that significant increases in lice cases are a result of people putting their heads together to take ritualistic selfie photographs. Marcy McQuillan, who runs two Nitless Noggins treatment centers in Los Gatos and Scotts Valley, says that lice infestations have easily spread as a result of the consistent hair contact.

“Head lice are spread through head-to-head contact. Lice don’t jump or fly, so you actually have to touch heads,” McQuillan said in a press release.

McQuillan continued: “Every teen I’ve treated, I ask about selfies, and they admit that they are taking them every day.”

Vanessa Mor, a supervisor at Lice Control in Oakland, Calif., told CNET that McQuillan’s speculative claim on lice may have widespread implications.

“That makes a lot of sense,” she told CNET. “In order to get it, you have to be direct contact — sitting on the same towel, sharing headphones together, or using someone else’s hair curler, sharing hats, sweaters, and scarves.”

Mor noted that she has also seen a more recent increase in head lice among teens and young adults, but she did not make the connection to selfies.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that all household members of someone who has active lice infestations should be treated. The CDC recommends that hats, scarves, pillow cases, bedding, clothing and towels worn or used by an infected person should be washed and dried in hot water and hot air over a 2-day cycle.

An estimated 6 million to 12 million lice infestations occur in the country each year among children between the ages of 3 and 11, the CDC estimates.

If crawling lice or nits are present several days after medicinal treatment, another round of treatment is recommended after all eggs have hatched but before new eggs are produced. There are several over-the-counter and prescription medications for lice, and supplementary combing and grooming methods are recommended as well.

The Nitless Noggins website notes that treatment at the center involves no pesticides, no chemicals and can be removed in a single treatment visit.

But Dr. Richard J. Pollack, like many medical experts who have responded to McQuillan’s claim, said he’s not buying into the dubious connections between selfies and lice infestations.

“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.”

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