Head Lice

According to a study which was released at the British Association of Dermatologists’ Annual Conference. (The conference will be held at the ACC Liverpool last July and is attended by approximately 1,300 UK and international dermatologists) children who have smartphones or tablets are significantly more likely to get head lice than those who don’t, despite past theories that selfies increase the transmission of lice, no conclusive evidence of this was discovered by the study.

This is not new news, of course, but still, highly relevant as we prepare to send our children back to school after the Christmas and New Year break.

The study, which was primarily researching the incidence of head lice amongst children in the UK, also found that previous estimates of the prevalence of head lice in British children may be conservative, although this could also reflect the longer period covered by the study. Previously it’s been thought that between two and eight per cent of school-aged children have head lice, however, this study found that 45 per cent of children had had headlice in the last five years, with girls with siblings who are aged 6–9 years most commonly affected.

Data was gathered on 202 children which found that 104 (51.5%) owned a smartphone or tablet; 82 (40.5%) were using a device for ‘selfies’. Taking regular selfies did increase risk, compared with not taking selfies, but not enough to draw conclusions. The study did not differentiate between individual and group selfies. Of the 98 children who did not own or use a smartphone or tablet, 29 (29.5%) experienced head lice compared to 65 of the 104 (62.5%) who did own or use a smartphone or tablet.

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.”

Dr Tess McPherson of Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, one of the researchers, said:

“Compared to previous estimates of head lice incidence, our figures were much higher, showing that almost half of children have had them in the last five years, which may not come as a surprise to parents. We also noted that children with smartphones or tablets were more likely to get head lice, which is interesting but we can only guess that this is due to the way that young people gather around them, though there could be other reasons.

“Selfie culture gets its fair share of negative press so it’s worth noting that despite previous speculation it seems that selfies can’t specifically be blamed for helping the spread of head lice at this stage.”


The British Association of Dermatologists is the central association of practising UK dermatologists. Our aim is to continually improve the treatment and understanding of skin disease. For further information about the charity, visit

PA14 How common are head lice? Are smartphone/tablet devices to blame?

N. Hitchen, T. McPherson and D. Warnapala Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Oxford, U.K.

#headlice #children #hair

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