The growing popularity of children taking selfies with their smartphones is being blamed for a dramatic increase in the incidence of head lice in schools, according to experts.
The research project, presented at the British Association of Dermatologists annual conference in Liverpool, in the UK, found 91 (45 per cent) of the 200 children tested had had head lice in the last five years, a longer period than covered by earlier research.
Those owning a smartphone – or tablet – were more than twice as likely to be infested with lice.
Out of the 98 who did not have or use either type of device 29 (29.5 per cent) experienced head lice – compared to 65 of the 104 (62.5 per cent) who did.
The close contact makes it easy for head lice to spread and experts are worried it is leading to an increase in the number of cases being reported in Queensland.
Michael Lawless from Lice Clinics Australia was quoted in the Courier Mail as saying older students were also more at risk than in previous years, because of the use of phones.
“We have teenagers with their heads touching to pose for selfies, much more than we’ve seen previously, it’s making the lice problem a lot more widespread,” he said.
“Girls are definitely more at risk than boys because lice can’t jump, so they have to be transmitted through head touching.
“Girls are more likely to be hugging each other ‘good morning’ at the school gate which increases the chances as well.”
Queensland Health said the egg-laying insect grows to 3.5mm and only takes 10 days to mature and start laying eggs of its own.
Lice only live on humans and must feed at least every six hours to stay alive.
There’s no easy prevention when it comes to head lice, but Mr Lawless said awareness was the key.
Girls with siblings aged six to nine were most commonly affected.
Matthew Gass, of the British Association of Dermatologists, said: “Head lice are a pain to deal with, both for children and their parents.
“Speaking from experience, they are intractable misery bugs that take far more time and effort to remove than is reasonable.
“Not to mention the obligatory quarantine period that they necessitate. That’s why a better understanding of how these pests are transmitted is useful.
“Prevention is always better than a cure, particularly if the cure means wrenching your poor daughter’s hair with a fine-toothed nit comb, or relying on over-the- counter remedies that head lice are increasingly resistant to.
“We’re not saying that smartphones are causing children to get head lice, but that there is a link, so if there’s an outbreak at home or at school, consider how electronic devices might cause children to congregate, allowing head lice to spread.”
In the study questionnaires were given to parents or guardians attending the paediatric outpatient department at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, over a one-month period.
The survey collected information on sex, hair length, socioeconomic status and smartphone or tablet ownership.
Head lice live in hair and are particularly common in four to eleven year-olds – causing an itchy scalp and general discomfort.
They range in size from the size of a pinhead to that of a sesame seed and are a whitish or grey-brown colour.
A variety of treatments to get rid of head lice are available to buy from pharmacies, supermarkets, as well as online and you don’t usually need to visit your GP to tackle the problem.
You catch them via direct head to head contact, where they climb from one person’s hair to another’s.
They are very unlikely to be spread by items such as combs, hats or pillows and are specific to people – you can’t catch them from animals.
Contrary to the old wives’ tale, head lice have no preference for dirty or clean hair – nor short or long. They usually die within 12-24 hours of being removed from hair.
TELL US YOUR HEAD LICE HORROR STORY
Parents everywhere live in fear of finding lice in their child’s hair, or worse, the news comes via the school’s admin officer.
Oh, the shame, the utter embarrassment, especially if and when the news leaks out as it surely will and the whole school gets to know, including all the tuckshop mums they work with.
But that’s nothing compared to the head lice horror stories some people have encountered.
One of our SheBrisbane girls told how, as a 14-year-old-year old she went to the hairdresser, only to be told, after the wash stage, that they could not continue because she had nits.
Apparently her sister, 6, who had just been successfully treated for nits had unknowingly passed them on.
We have also heard of older women being virtually frog-marched out of salons because they had nits, no doubt picked up from their children.
Nits don’t discriminate when it comes to celebrity. Last December, What Not To Wear TV star Susannah Constantine revealed her three-year battle with nits. The TV presenter and fashion expert, 55, said not only was she suffering the shame of a full-blown infestation, but her’s had so far lasted three long years. She said until now, there had been nothing she could do to shake them off.
“My head lice, and the nits – or eggs – they produce have been immoveable, immune to lotions, potions and good advice, driving me to an itchy distraction, not to mention social Siberia,” she said.
“That is why today I have finally accepted the humiliation of visiting one of Britain’s fast-expanding nit-buster clinics and a weird battery of treatments.
“My hair is to be pig-tailed, scorched and, in a coup de théâtre, professionally ‘hoovered’ in an attempt to rid me once and for all of the lice that, around the country, are becoming ever-more resistant to standard treatments.”
- Share your nit horror story with SheBrisbane…anonymously, of course.