Head lice are tiny parasitic insects that live on the scalp. They do not live on pets or other animals. A louse (the singular form of lice) has six legs, each with a curved claw that can hold tightly onto hair. Head lice crawl easily between hairs, but they cannot fly or jump. Head lice only live on human blood and feed several times a day and they live close to the scalp to maintain their body temperature. Lice do not dig or burrow into the skin – they use their needle-like mouthparts to suck blood through the skin.
Nits are lice eggs. Nits look like tiny yellow, tan or brown dots before they hatch. Lice lay nits on hair shafts close to the scalp, where the temperature is perfect for keeping warm until they hatch. Nits look not unlike dandruff, only they can’t be removed by brushing or shaking them off.
Although much smaller than lice, nits are often easier to spot on the head because they are “glued” to the hair and can’t crawl away. After hatching, the remaining shell looks white or clear and stays firmly attached to the hair shaft.
A head louse has six claws that allow it to crawl around from hair strand to hair strand. It can move from one head to another this way, which is why head-to-head contact is the primary way head lice are spread between people, mainly children. This typically happens when they sit or play together in close proximity. Lice eggs cannot move and are not transmissible.
Head lice are rarely transmitted via a shared comb, hat or helmet. Clothing, stuffed animals, theatre seats and other items are not threats to spreading head lice. Bathing every day will not prevent or wash away head lice and cleaning the home or bagging toys and clothing won’t help you prevent or get rid of head lice.