Think twice before you get up close and personal for a selfie -- because that head-rubbing contact could allow lice to jump into your hair.
“I’ve seen a huge increase of lice in teens this year. Typically it’s younger children I treat, because they’re at higher risk for head-to-head contact. But now, teens are sticking their heads together every day to take cell phone pics,” Marcy McQuillan of Nitless Noggins, a lice removal service, told SFist.
Naturally, the foreboding selfie PSA garnered some jeering Internet reactions.
@mat I'm starting my kickstarter for a selfie head condom right now
— murphstahoe (@murphstahoe) February 24, 2014
But the theory might not be so farfetched. Nancy Gordon, one of the founders of the National Association of Lice Treatment Professionals and CEO Lice Knowing You, Inc., says she has also seen a significant increase in lice among older children in the last three to four years -- something she says perplexes many parents of patients who have heard lice mainly affects children ages 3-12.
“I often say to them, ‘Have you seen the way teenagers greet each other lately? Teenage girls can barely say hi to each other without hugging,’” she told The Huffington Post, adding that she couldn’t say with certainty whether the selfie phenomenon was a direct cause of the lice uptick but that it was definitely possible.
Vanessa Mor of Oakland's Lice Control told CNET she's also seen an uptick in lice in teens and young adults. She didn't blame selfies, but didn't dismiss the idea either.
"That makes a lot of sense. 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 was quoted as saying.
But not everyone is buying the claim.
Deborah Altschuler of The National Pediculosis Association, an organization that advocates against pesticide treatments for lice, said there has been no data collected on infestations in different age groups but that this warning should not be a concern.
“We've always heard of older kids getting it, particularly when there are younger siblings bringing it home or outbreaks in college dorms,” she told HuffPost. “It’s not new and it's not alarming. It just happens.”
One expert even suggested that the furor is a clear sign of someone selling something.
“Wherever these louse salons open a new branch, there always seems to be an epidemic. It’s good for business," Dr. Richard J. Pollack of the Harvard School of Public Health told NBC News.
Pollack, who also runs the pest identification and guidance service IdentifyUS, said he's seen no evidence that lice is spreading among selfie-snapping teens, or any other set of teens for that matter. Teens almost never have lice, he said.
In any case, the CDC has some tips for lice prevention -- and first on the list is to "avoid head-to-head (hair-to-hair) contact during play and other activities at home, school and elsewhere (sports activities, playground, slumber parties, camp)."
So maybe you should skip the selfies... just to be safe.