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Are 'selfies' causing head lice in kids?

Could "selfies" spread lice among older kids?

Could "selfies" spread lice among older kids? Credit: iStock

Q. How reliable are claims by businesses that offer lice treatment that "selfies" are spreading head lice among older kids?

A. The answer depends on whom you ask.

Not reliable at all, says Richard Pollack, an entomologist who grew up in Great Neck, has studied head lice for decades and now teaches at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.

"Head lice prevalence is greatest from kindergarten to fourth grade. After that, the prevalence drops precipitously," Pollack says. "Most of the kids who are taking selfies don't have head lice."

Those who do usually acquire it from younger siblings. "Is it possible that one day a head louse will cross the great divide from one person's head to another? It's possible. But the probability is extremely low," he says.

The people who espouse the idea that lice are being spread through selfies have a vested interest in publicity for their businesses -- they run the salons that charge families to remove lice, Pollack says. There's been no scientific study of the accuracy, he says. "I don't think it would withstand any scrutiny," Pollack says.

However, Adie Horowitz, owner of Licenders, with a location in Port Washington, says she's been seeing more older kids with lice -- about 25 a week in her four New York-area centers, compared with 20 a week in the past. She looks at their selfies, and then other people who appear in the photos end up with lice as well, she says. "It's realistic," she says. "We're connecting it."

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