Natalie Southwick
August 27, 2015 1:07 pm

If you thought the worst thing that could happen to you when you take a selfie is a serious case of bed head, think again. You could be attacked by a bison, fall down a flight of stairs or get bitten by a rattlesnake — and now it’s time to add head lice to the list of selfie-inflicted dangers.

Lice — those tiny parasitic insects that suck blood from your scalp and make your head itch like crazy — are typically found among elementary school-aged kids, who are more likely to have head-to-head contact with other students.

Yet doctors have reported a surprising increase in cases among teenagers, who normally aren’t in the highest-risk group for lice. While teens with younger siblings run a risk of catching lice from their brothers or sisters, that’s still not enough to explain why doctors are seeing so many more itchy teenagers than they did five years ago.

So what’s behind the lice infestation? Some doctors have suggested that our obsession with documenting every moment of our lives and friendships — and cramming all of our heads together to fit into the Instagram frame — may be to blame.

“Teenagers don’t usually get lice because they’re not sharing hats and things like that,” Wisconsin pediatrician Dr. Sharon Rink said in an interview with local TV station WBAY. “And lice can’t jump, so the only way they can transmit lice is touching their heads together, and that’s happening with all these photos.”

“People are doing ‘selfies’ like every day, as opposed to going to photo booths years and years ago,” she added. “So you’re probably having much more contact with other people’s heads.”

According to Marcy McQuillan, of California-based Nitless Noggins, lice specialists are now treating more high school and college students than elementary- and middle-schoolers, and selfies are definitely the reason why.

“Teens are sticking their heads together every day to take cell phone pics,” McQuillan told SFist. “Every teen I’ve treated, I ask about selfies, and they admit that they are taking them every day… I think parents need to be aware, and teenagers need to be aware too. Selfies are fun, but the consequences are real.”

While lice are hardly a rare occurrence, with between 6 and 12 million kids ages 3 to 11 in the U.S. getting lice every year, they’re definitely uncomfortable and unhygienic, and scratching the bites can lead to infections. Plus, they’re highly contagious, and nobody wants to be known as the person who gave lice to half the sophomore class a week before fall semi-formal.

One of the only ways for lice to pass from one teen’s head to another is by the two touching their heads together — so no matter how much you love your friends, you may want to leave some airspace between your scalps, at least until you’re positive there’s nothing scampering around up there.

Dr. Rink agreed, suggesting that teens should try to keep some distance between their heads when taking selfies together, just in case someone in the frame does have lice.

“If you have an extremely itchy scalp and you’re a teenager, you might want to get checked out for lice instead of chalking it up to dandruff,” she recommended.

You may have thought that graduating from fifth grade meant you’d never have to worry about lice checks again, but it seems you’re not getting off the hook quite so easily. If you’re not too old for selfies (and let’s be honest, none of us are), you’re not too old to be catching lice, either. So next time you need to take a photo with your besties, just leave them — and their possible scalp bugs — a little bit of breathing room.

(Image via iStockPhoto)

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