Even the thought of fleas can be enough to make your skin itch, and with good reason. There are more than 2,000 species of flea, and the little critters can make your life a misery - not to mention your pets. Fleas are very common, and are often carried by a range of domestic pets at some stage during their lifetimes. Adult fleas are parasites that live off warm-blooded animals and can bite humans.
You’ll most likely notice fleas if you have pets who are suffering, but infestations can happen in any home, regardless of cleanliness. If you start noticing flea bites, you’re going to need to nip that flea problem in the bud as soon as possible.
Dr Roger Henderson offers advice on flea bite symptoms, treatment and prevention:
What are fleas?
Fleas are insects from the order Siphonaptera. They are parasites that survive by sucking the blood from their hosts. Fleas that primarily feed on humans include the human flea (Pulex irritans) and dog and cat fleas (Ctenocephalides canis and Ctenocephalides felis.) A flea has three pairs of legs, with long hind legs ideal for jumping (although they are wingless) and can jump up 16 - 18 cm in height. Adult fleas of domestic animals tend to live on the animal for easy access to blood meals and so most of the common domestic pets, such as cats or dogs, are at risk from fleas especially in the summer and in centrally heated households.
The life cycle of the flea consists of four main stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. The female fleas lay white, round eggs then the larva feed on organic material in a moist environment. These then spin a cocoon and pupate until the pupa emerges from its cocoon as an adult flea. The life cycle of the flea can range from 2 weeks to 2 years and a female flea is capable of laying as many as 400-800 eggs, usually in batches of up to 20. In humans, fleabites can produce an allergic reaction.
Fleas can be very hard to see on dark backgrounds, being dark themselves and so are more obvious if they jump onto a person wearing white clothing, with flea faeces looking like small black pepper grains.
Flea bite symptoms
Flea bites come with a number of distinctive symptoms:
Flea bites have a distinctive appearance, typically being in clusters of three or four red spots about 5mm in diameter or in a straight line on the skin.
Flea bites are usually found on the ankles and lower legs where the fleas can reach by jumping or at the waistband where there is a gap between shirt and trousers or skirt.
The main symptom of flea bites is intense itching, with the skin around the bite becoming red, painful and sore.
Flea bites may occasionally also have a small red ‘halo’ around the centre of the bite.
Some people can have a significant allergic reaction around the flea bite area with the bite becoming red and swollen, sometimes with a central blister that may look oozy and crusted.
Scratching the flea bite can break the skin and lead to a secondary bacterial infection.
Flea bite treatment
Although most flea bites do not require treatment, possible treatments include oral antihistamines to reduce allergic symptoms of hives, swelling and itch, antipruritic (anti-itch) creams to help reduce scratching and steroid creams to reduce inflammation.
If there is pain, redness, oozing, crusting or pustules at the site of a bite this indicates a probable secondary bacterial infection, usually requiring antibiotic tablets or cream.
How to get rid of fleas
Eradicating fleas from your home is a two step process: you first treat any pets and then treat your home.
✔️ Treating your pets for fleas
Move back the fur of your cat or dog to look for fleas or flea bites on their skin (if they have been scratching more recently this is often a sign that fleas are present).
Any cats and dogs should be treated for fleas and with an animal insecticide recommended by your vet specifically for that purpose.
Pet bedding should be destroyed or washed in hot soapy water to destroy immature and adult fleas.
✔️ Treating your home for fleas
Treating the home includes vacuuming all floors and upholstered furniture in order to remove animal hair, flea eggs and pupae.
Make sure this includes under the furniture, under cushions, in cracks and crevices in floors and along the walls.
Remember that the vacuum bag will contain flea eggs and pupae so always dispose of it immediately in a bin outside.
Do not forget to remove things like clothes and toys from the floor so the entire surface can be treated, and any tiles or concrete floors should be swept and washed.
Last updated: 17-05-2021
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