School is back in session, which means the return of a possible threat: head lice! According to the CDC, an estimated 6 million to 12 million lice infestations occur every year in the United States, among children ages 3 to 11. While teenagers usually don’t get head lice as often as younger children, medical experts are seeing an increase in cases—and they’re blaming selfies.

“Teenagers don’t usually get lice because they’re not sharing hats and things like that,” Dr. Sharon Rink, a pediatrician in Wisconsin, told 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.”

Picture it: a teen asks their friends to jump in for a quick Instagram selfie. A bunch of heads come in close contact with each other, allowing the parasites to easily find new homes in the scalps of teens, hence the term “social media lice.” As if we needed another thing to be scared of.

Not so fast, says lice expert Katie Shepherd. The founder and CEO of the Shepherd Institute for Lice Solutions told Yahoo Parenting that selfies aren’t actually to blame for the lice problem. She says the real cause is a combo of schools not being proactive enough, crappy treatments and the fact that teens are always hanging out in close proximity to each other.

“Kids curl up on couches together and sit head-to-head looking at videos on someone’s phone. That’s a lot more contact than you get taking a selfie,” Shepherd explains. “Lice can move 9 inches in a minute’s time. They don’t jump or fly, but they can make the transition from person to person quickly.”


Contact the author at marie.lodi@jezebel.com.