Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=228477
Story Retrieval Date: 10/31/2014 7:32:32 PM CST

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Eliza Larson/MEDILL

Carrie Madej de-louses the myths of head lice


Itching for a selfie? Group selfies can lead to lice infestation

by Eliza Larson
Feb 27, 2014


Next time you take a selfie, maybe you should be a little more nitpicky about who else is in your photo. Seriously.

California “lice expert,” Marcy McQuillan of Scotts Valley’s Nitless Noggins, told a San Francisco-based website Monday that the selfie phenomenon has contributed to an increase in the number of cases she’ has seen of lice in teens. According to the Oxford Dictionary, a selfie is a type of "photography that one has taken of oneself,” typically with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media site.

The typical pose for a group selfie is to get as close as possible, usually touching heads. But all a head louse needs is a little contact.

“They don’t jump. They don’t fly. They just crawl,” said Carrie Madej, owner of Nit Free Noggins, a lice treatment center based in Chicago. “So you need that contact there for a few seconds in order for that bug to cross over.”

And a few seconds is all you need to take a selfie.

McQuillan said teens are sticking their heads together every day to take selfies.

“I just think the selfies are bringing [spreading lice] on a little more with the teenagers,” Madej said.

Elizabeth Haloulos, a school nurse at Taft High School on Chicago’s Northwest Side, said she does not know of any “out of the ordinary” outbreaks of lice in Chicago, but she said a lot of cases of lice go unreported.

“We don’t need to know the exact student,” Haloulos said. “But we need to know who to target with our letters.”

This may be because there is a stigma that comes along with head lice.

“Everybody thinks they’re dirty or they don’t keep a clean home because they have head lice,” Madej said. “So they’re not real quick to tell their circle of friends that they need to stop and get checked.”

Madej said that lice are not selective when choosing a host.

“It doesn’t matter,” Madej said. “We see it on very short hair, long hair, thin, thick, dirty, clean.”