The Hidden Health Danger of Taking Selfies with Friends

A nasty bug could be photobombing your kid's selfies. Make sure you know how to avoid trouble.

Group of kids taking a selfieMPH Photos/Shutterstock

With the school year starting, it’s no surprise that kids want to snap selfies with their BFFs. There’s a danger, though, warns Shari Sperling, DO, a board-certified dermatologist and the founder and medical director of Sperling Dermatology: When the kids bunch close together for the photograph, it’s possible that anyone with lice could spread the condition to their friends.

“Selfies with multiple people usually require close contact in order to remain in the frame of the lens of the camera photo,” Dr. Sperling explains. “Usually, multiple photos are taken at once (to get the best picture), and the longer the direct head-to-head contact, in theory, the higher the likelihood of transmitting lice from one head to another,” she says.

Six million to 12 million kids will get lice, the CDC estimates. An Oxford study of 202 British children revealed that kids who had a smartphone or tablet were twice as likely to have head lice as those who did not; just 30 percent of kids without a device suffered an infestation, while 63 percent with a device did.

Even worse: The lice are getting harder to kill. In one 2016 study, 95 percent of the head lice collected were so-called super lice. “They’ve been identified in 48 states. They’re the result of treating ordinary lice incorrectly or by misdiagnosis of lice,” says Dr. Sperling. A less-than-fatal exposure to lice treatment allows the bugs to build resistance, she says.

Make sure you discuss lice prevention with your kids. The FDA recommends avoiding head-to-head contact during play and activities: Don’t lean heads together to take photos or look at a smartphone, the experts warn. Don’t share hats, helmets, headphones, or pillows (at a slumber party, for example). And when kids get to school, they should stuff their jackets and hats into their backpacks or an individual cubby if possible. If you do run into trouble, here are 10 home remedies for lice that really work.

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Lisa Marie Conklin
Lisa Marie Conklin is a Baltimore-based writer and writes regularly about pets and home improvement for Reader's Digest. Her work has also been published in The Healthy, HealthiNation, The Family Handyman, Taste of Home, and, among others. She's also a certified personal trainer and walking coach for a local senior center.