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DL Schools warns about head lice

Head lice, nits, kooties -- call them what you want, but they are now going around Detroit Lakes schools.

"For some reason, this is a usual occurrence in the fall and then again after Christmas break," said Roosevelt School Nurse Dawn Howitz.

According to Howitz, there have been roughly a dozen students identified with the critters recently, and the problem could get worse.

They don't fly or jump, but they crawl from person to person if contact is close enough, like it often is in schools.

"Lice can crawl from one head to another or from one student's jacket to another student's jacket and up to their head," said Howitz, adding that the lice have a very short window of opportunity to get up to the head before dying, "because they need human blood to survive," she said. If they don't quite make it up to the head, they can sometimes (but less often) latch on to eyelashes or eyebrows.

Howitz says teachers will sometimes bring students down to be checked if they notice them scratching their heads a lot, as itchiness is a big symptom, along with redness or little red bumps.

"Sometimes the students don't feel anything, though," said Howitz, noting that detecting head lice isn't always easy. "Lice are pretty hard to see. They're tan or gray and very tiny -- almost transparent."

In Detroit Lakes, if a student is found with live lice, they will be sent home and can return 24 hours after they are given treatment. There are a variety of both over the counter and prescription shampoos for this.

Students are still allowed in school if they are only identified with nits (lice eggs), provided they are also getting immediate treatment.

Nits are easier to see, as they look like large flakes of dandruff -- only these eggs won't flake off, but have to be hand picked, one by one.

"Parents must do this," said Howitz, "It's a tedious job, but they can do it by picking them out with their fingernails."

Howitz says there should not be a stigma attached to the condition, as lice do not discriminate against anybody. "It has nothing to do with whether or not you have a neat or messy house or whether you haven't washed your hair -- people tend to think that, but actually, lice love very clean hair," she said.

"But there can be re-infestation," warned Howitz, "So, I would just tell parents that if your child has head lice, wash the bedding and vacuum the home very thoroughly."

Students are also advised against sharing hats, combs, headphones, pillows or towels -- especially during an outbreak like this.