Can group selfies give kids lice? (Plus how to get rid of super lice)

Head lice. (Mayo Clinic)
Head lice. (Mayo Clinic)

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - According to several published reports most lice are now what's know as super lice that are resistant to most over-the-counter lice shampoos. With kids heading back to school the doctors and experts are warning parents about the ways in which kids pick up the bug that feed on human blood in the scalp.

Kids are also encouraged not to share hats, combs or brushes. But are selfies causing the bugs to move from one head to another?

The topic has gotten a lot of media attention, but the Cleveland Clinic says there is no evidence currently to justify that concern. The Clinic said lice crawls -- it doesn't fly or jump.

Prolonged head-to-head contact is how the bugs spread.

"The limited moments of head-to-head contact involved in taking a'selfie makes the spread of lice during this practice very unlikely," according to the Clinic.

Shampoo shields: These products claim they can prevent or reduce the risk of getting head lice, but evidence is sparse. The Federal Trade Commission charged the manufacturer of at least one such product with false advertising.

Over-the-counter killers: As noted, over-the-counter products that contain pyrethrins or pyrethroids (like permethrin) are unlikely to offer much relief because many to most lice are now resistant to those chemicals. In fact, they could prolong a person's suffering, because it takes a few days to know whether the product is working.

Household fumigants: These chemicals can be toxic if inhaled, and they pose an explosion risk near a heat source. They are also unnecessary. As noted, lice can't live for very long away from actual human heads, where they draw their blood meals. So most lice around the house will die anyway.

Pricey prescriptions: Skip products containing lindane. This chemical is neurotoxic and carcinogenic to humans, and has been linked to reports of seizures and even deaths from improper use.

Some people recommend several in home products to use to suffocate lice. Items like mayonnaise, olive oil or butter. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) claims there is no clear scientific evidence these products work.

Here is what the CDC does recommend for treatment of lice:

Treat the infested person(s): Requires using an Over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medication. Follow these treatment steps:

  1. Before applying treatment, it may be helpful to remove clothing that can become wet or stained during treatment.
  2. Apply lice medicine, also called pediculicide, according to the instructions contained in the box or printed on the label. If the infested person has very long hair (longer than shoulder length), it may be necessary to use a second bottle. Pay special attention to instructions on the label or in the box regarding how long the medication should be left on the hair and how it should be washed out.
  • Have the infested person put on clean clothing after treatment.
  • If a few live lice are still found 8–12 hours after treatment, but are moving more slowly than before, do not retreat. The medicine may take longer to kill all the lice. Comb dead and any remaining live lice out of the hair using a fine–toothed nit comb.
  • If, after 8–12 hours of treatment, no dead lice are found and lice seem as active as before, the medicine may not be working. Do not retreat until speaking with your health care provider; a different pediculicide may be necessary. If your health care provider recommends a different pediculicide, carefully follow the treatment instructions contained in the box or printed on the label.
  • Nit (head lice egg) combs, often found in lice medicine packages, should be used to comb nits and lice from the hair shaft. Many flea combs made for cats and dogs are also effective.
  • After each treatment, checking the hair and combing with a nit comb to remove nits and lice every 2–3 days may decrease the chance of self–reinfestation. Continue to check for 2–3 weeks to be sure all lice and nits are gone. Nit removal is not needed when treating with spinosad topical suspension.
  • Retreatment is meant to kill any surviving hatched lice before they produce new eggs. For some drugs, retreatment is recommended routinely about a week after the first treatment (7–9 days, depending on the drug) and for others only if crawling lice are seen during this period. Retreatment with lindane shampoo is not recommended.
  • Supplemental Measures: Head lice do not survive long if they fall off a person and cannot feed. You don't need to spend a lot of time or money on housecleaning activities. Follow these steps to help avoid re–infestation by lice that have recently fallen off the hair or crawled onto clothing or furniture.
  • Machine wash and dry clothing, bed linens, and other items that the infested person wore or used during the 2 days before treatment using the hot water (130°F) laundry cycle and the high heat drying cycle. Clothing and items that are not washable can be dry–cleaned
  • OR
  • sealed in a plastic bag and stored for 2 weeks.
  • Soak combs and brushes in hot water (at least 130°F) for 5–10 minutes.
  • Vacuum the floor and furniture, particularly where the infested person sat or lay. However, the risk of getting infested by a louse that has fallen onto a rug or carpet or furniture is very small. Head lice survive less than 1–2 days if they fall off a person and cannot feed; nits cannot hatch and usually die within a week if they are not kept at the same temperature as that found close to the human scalp. Spending much time and money on housecleaning activities is not necessary to avoid reinfestation by lice or nits that may have fallen off the head or crawled onto furniture or clothing.

Do not use fumigant sprays; they can be toxic if inhaled or absorbed through the skin.

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