Head lice do not jump or fly. They can only crawl and move from one human to another, primarily via head-to-head contact. However, some parasites that affect humans do jump.

Head lice are wingless ectoparasites or blood-feeding invertebrates that live close to a person’s scalp for moisture, warmth, shelter, and food.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), head lice can live up to 30 days on a person’s head. However, they will die within 1–2 days if they do not feed.

Other ectoparasites include mites, fleas, lice, ticks, and bedbugs. Most of these parasites do not jump, hop, or fly and rely on crawling to transfer from one person to another.

This article explores how head lice and other parasites move. It also discusses ways to prevent and manage certain parasites.

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A head louse’s legs have hook-like claws that allow them to crawl and grasp onto individual hairs. While they cannot fly, hop, or jump, they crawl rapidly, spanning 23 centimeters per minute under natural conditions.

Head lice primarily transfer between people through direct hair-to-hair or head-to-head contact.

Learn more about what causes lice.

Some examples of ectoparasites include:

Of these, only fleas can jump. Similar to other ectoparasites, fleas are small wingless insects that feed on animal or human blood.

Fleas

A flea has the following physical characteristics:

  • disproportionately small head
  • reddish-brown in color
  • three pairs of legs
  • long hind legs

The CDC notes there are over 2,500 flea species worldwide, with 300 present in the United States.

Fleas can bite people and can cause any of the following symptoms:

  • extremely itchy bites
  • a discolored, swollen lump appearing about half an hour after the bite
  • the lump may develop into a small wound or blister after about 1 day

Learn more about fleabites.

A person may be able to prevent and manage lice using the following tips:

  • Avoiding head-to-head contact.
  • Refraining from sharing supplies and clothing, such as hats, combs, and towels.
  • Disinfecting any combs and brushes someone with lice may have used by soaking them in water at least 130°F (54.4°C) in temperature for 5–10 minutes.
  • Vacuuming the floor, furniture, and surfaces where a person with lice may have sat.
  • Cleaning everything that has been in contact with a person with lice in the 48 hours before receiving treatment.
  • Using the machine to wash and dry items such as bedsheets and clothing in 130°F (54.4°C) water and a high heat drying cycle.
  • Dry-cleaning nonwashable items or sealing them in a plastic bag for 2 weeks.
  • Checking people for lice several weeks after anyone in the household with lice finishes their treatment.

Insecticide sprays and fogs are not necessary for treating head lice and can be toxic if someone inhales or absorbs them through the skin.

Read more about home remedies for lice.

There are various ways to ensure that pets are free of fleas. Pet owners can consider:

  • limiting the pet’s contact with wild and stray animals
  • limiting the time the pet spends outdoors
  • bathing, brushing, and inspecting the pet for fleas regularly
  • using veterinarian-approved flea control products
  • cleaning bedding frequently — especially pet bedding
  • sweeping or vacuuming regularly
  • keeping wild animals away from the home
  • mowing the yard frequently
  • avoiding overwatering the yard
  • avoiding the beach after heavy rain, on overcast days, or at dusk or dawn when sand fleas are most active

Learn more about how to get rid of fleas.

People should speak with a doctor if they do not see any dead lice 8–12 hours after treatment or if they seem as active as before treatment.

This may mean the medication is ineffective, and the doctor may recommend a different medication to treat the lice.

People should also speak with a doctor if they:

Lice and most other ectoparasites do not have wings and cannot jump. However, fleas can jump.

The best way for people to prevent lice is to avoid direct head-to-head contact with others. Additionally, if a person frequently inspects, cleans, and disinfects their home, they may help prevent and manage lice and other parasites.

People should consider speaking with a doctor if they develop any signs of infection following a bite or if lice treatment fails.