Selfies and the sharing of smartphone screens are being blamed for an increase in nits and head lice among schoolchildren in Wicklow and across the country.
Head lice needs head-to-head contact to spread and experts say this is happening more regularly as young people spend more time looking into screens together.
Pharmacist Caitriona O’Riordan of the Irish Pharmacy Union executive said head lice used to be an issue confined to pre-schools and primary schools, But it is now are becoming a growing problem in our secondary schools.
“Normally teenagers wouldn’t be [in] as close proximity to each other as primary school children, but selfies and smartphones have changed that,” she said.
62% who had a tablet or smartphone had picked up head lice in the past five years
The Irish Pharmacy Union estimates around 10% of children will have head lice between the ages of four and 16.
A 2017 UK study involving 200 children found 62% who had a tablet or smartphone had picked up head lice in the past five years, compared with 29% without.
The study also highlighted how the incidence of head lice was increasing, with 45% of participants having had head lice at some point in the previous five years, compared with the 8% prevalence rates in the past.
The HSE has said that while there have been theories that the use of technology has increased the transmission of head lice, this had never been proven.
UK statistics were based on a small study in a specific population, and more research in this area was needed.
Head lice are grey or brown insects that live close to the scalp. Nits are empty eggs left behind when lice hatch and can be white, yellow or brown.
Official advice to parents from the HSE is to check children’s hair every week with a “detection comb” and to use a medication lotion for treatment.