Many people believe that unlike the dark medieval times when no notion of hygiene existed and powdered wigged ladies had a special dog which would catch these tiny nippers, today humans can’t be bitten by fleas. But is this really so?
Do Fleas Bite Humans?
The answer is yes, they often do. By and large, fleas don’t care whose blood to drink, be it a dog’s, a cat’s or your blood. Once a person identifies the red spots on their body as flea bites, they usually blame their pets for apparently “contaminating” them with these small biting bugs. It is partly true as people are usually bitten by the fleas inhabiting warm-blooded animals, such as dog or cat fleas, or less often, rat or rabbit fleas.
A separate type of human fleas exists which is known for its modesty (just like any other kind) and feeds on both human and animal blood. It is larger than other flea species and is easier to recognize, taking into consideration that regular flies are extremely tiny (their height is only 1 mm). As a rule, fleas drink as much blood as possible for the future, and as a result, they can’t digest it all.
Oddly enough, it is the hunters who suffer the most from fleas which inhabit rabbits, foxes, birds and other warm-blooded creatures of forests. They easily jump over on their two-legged victim (unnoticed, as usual), and the hunters feel strong itching and notice red spots a bit later. According to the Western Australia Department of Health, “skin reactions to flea bites can appear within minutes,” which is why many people confuse flea and mosquito bites. We’ll discuss this matter in more detail below, though.
So, the answer to the question “Can fleas bite humans?” is certainly YES, but speaking of someone having fleas would be incorrect. Unlike lice that inhabit the victim’s hair and fur, most fleas jump away straight after having bitten the victim. This is their natural behavior and that’s why nature has given them strong legs which allow them to jump a distance 100-200 times longer than their body. Some types of fleas grow really attached to their owners and settle on their bodies for a long period of time, but this isn’t true for the most widely spread kinds of pet fleas which most often cause human suffering.
How to Identify Flea Bite Symptoms & Allergy?
In general, there are two possible ways of getting bitten:
- Either the fleas will jump on you from animals or pets.
- Or you will accidentally bring flea eggs with you (for example, from infested areas or with dirt on your shoes).
Flea bite symptoms are rather peculiar as you certainly won’t miss them. Flea bites are quite painful and you will feel this nasty insect piercing your skin. You will hardly be able to catch a flea, though, as it will jump away very quickly.
We’ve decided to survey real victims to see whether flea bites are itchy and asked this question to a friend of ours who once got bitten by her cat’s fleas. Here’s what she told us: “At first the flea bites itch terribly, but they get better quite fast (faster than mosquito bites). You’ll find red spots with holes in their centre on the bites later. I didn’t treat them and they disappeared after a couple of days.” She also added that if you catch a flea and hold it between your nails, it will “click”, and thus you’ll be able to tell if it’s a flea or some other insect. Quite an extraordinary way to recognize the nasty insect!
We have taken into account this information, but when we started some extensive research on the matter, we learned that this girl who had a few bites on her leg WAS VERY LUCKY! According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, “the flea rash often has three bumps together, that may itch and bleed and may be located on the armpit or fold of a joint (at the elbow, knee, or ankle) or in skin folds, such as under breasts or in the groin.” When piercing the victim’s skin with its sting, a flea not only can hurt the victim but it also injects its saliva into the bite which contains hemolytic toxins. It’s impossible to predict the reaction of a human body to these toxins. If the reaction is limited to regular rash and itching, some topical treatment will do.
What Do Flea Bites Look Like?
Usually flea bites are easy to identify. The bite spot is small and deep with a hole in the centre, and it has a red areola around it. Most often, fleas bite feet and shins, less often they attack the upper body. As a rule, 2-3 bites form a trail. The itching is intense and goes away relatively quickly. People can feel strong pain at the moment of the bite too.
Complications can possibly occur since fleas often carry such diseases as plague, rat typhus, pseudotuberculosis, listeriosis; tularemia; typhoid fever infection, rickettsioses. Obviously, every flea bite, just like every tick bite, will hardly cause these diseases, but you always have to be aware of potential danger of infected flea bites.
Moreover, the hemolytic toxins can cause other diseases once they get into a human’s bloodstream. Allergic reaction to flea bites is also possible. It is well-known that anything can be an allergen: be it food or insect bites, such as flea bites. Very often, you can encounter flea bites on toddlers who play on the floor with pets a lot and thus many kids are allergic to fleas due to the fact that their immunity is not formed yet. Adults aren’t an exception though as any flea bite is a kind of lottery where you can win or get an allergy.
Here are some regular flea bite allergy symptoms:
- Rash around the bites;
- Sensibility of the nervous system: anxiety, general excitement;
- Shortness of breath (which is the most dangerous symptom that can lead to anaphylactic shock).
Flea bites can lead not only to allergies but also to pulicosis which is a skin reaction and is a result of a human body’s individual reaction to the toxins which get into the bloodstream after a bite. It is considered to be an acute form of an individual’s allergy to fleas. This lesion is characterized by severe rash and itching which don’t begin instantly, but within several hours or even days after the actual bite.
The main symptoms of pullicosis are:
- Bite swelling;
- Red rash and blisters;
- Mouth and throat ulcers;
- Lymph swelling.
Neglecting these symptoms can facilitate the toxins’ reaching the CNS (Central Nervous System) and affecting it, which can have dangerous consequences. Do consult a doctor immediately!
Pullicosis is often found on the shins (from ankles to the knees), and less often, it occurs on hips, shoulders, upper arms, lower body and waist. No rash is located in the armpits, on the perineum or genitals.
You would say that the symptoms of pullicosis and allergies are very much alike, and that is absolutely correct. That’s why if your symptoms worry you, you’d better consult a doctor rather than diagnose yourself.
In addition, you can’t always know for sure that you’ve been bitten by a flea. Often, bed bugs’ or mosquitoes’ bites are confused with flea bites. We will now discuss this confusion.
How to Tell Apart Flea Bites vs Bed Bug Bites vs Mosquito Bites?
Do you know what a flea bite looks like? Most often it’s hard to immediately identify flea bites and they are commonly mistaken for bed bug or mosquito bites. Their symptoms are indeed very similar as they include red rash, itching and swelling. We’ve decided to make a chart below and distinguish the most typical features of these insects’ bites so that you could have absolutely no doubts in regards to what has bitten you.
Please note that we describe a regular reaction to the insects’ bites, not an allergic one!
|The bite spot||Small deep bites with a hole in the centre, and a red areola around it. Some blisters are also found.||Medium-sized stiff red swollen spots||Small red swollen spots.|
|Where they bite||As a rule, 2-3 bites form a trail. Most often. fleas bite feet and shins, less often they attack the upper body.||3-5 bites form a trail on any body part.||The bites are separate, spots can be found all over the body.|
|Timeline||Bites can appear at any time.||Bed bugs are night insects so you’ll find the bites the morning after when you wake up.||Bites can appear at any time.|
||Intense, goes away relatively quickly.||Does not necessarily happen, but in any case doesn’t last long.||Intense, goes away relatively quickly.|
|Other typical symptoms||Strong pain at the moment of the bite, the insect is not observed though.||Brownish stains on the bed sheets and under the mattresses which are the remains of the bed bugs you’ve accidentally crushed.||Mosquitoes squeak, bites are visible when a skin starts to itch.|
|Insect activity peak||Activity peaks at the end of summer*||The insects are active all year around||Activity peaks at the end of spring and during summer.|
* According to the Canadian Department of Environment and Conservation.
If your symptoms indicate that you’ve been bitten by fleas, it’s time to treat your skin. Most often, traditional treatment which won’t damage your budget, will aid you and help you forget such nightmare as flea bites.
How to Get Rid of Flea Bites?
First of all, you need to realize that treating flea bites in a room full of fleas is pointless as new bites will follow the old ones. We’ll explain how to get rid of fleas in our flea control products review, and now, we would like to focus on the treatment of flea bites and allergy.
How to Treat Flea Bites on Humans?
Indeed, the least pleasant thing about flea bites is the itching which doesn’t seem to lead to anything good. It’s hard to refrain from scratching the bites, but you really have to or else the bite will swell even more, get infected and some serious complications can occur.
First, you have to rinse the bite with warm water and soap and disinfect it with any antibacterial gel, alcohol lotion or even with liquor (if you’re out picnicking). You can also put some on it in order to reduce swelling.
Then, you can use any of the homemade remedies safe for both children and adults for topical treatment of itching and swelling, such as:
- Dissolve apple cider in water;
- A mixture of one tablespoon of sodium and one cup of water;
- A mixture of one tablespoon of honey and two cups of lemon juice (when the bite area is large);
- Tea tree oil or any aloe vera product (juice, gel or oil).
You can also use “camping” treatment and after having disinfected the flea bites spots with liquor, put some tea bags over them. Tea contains tanning agents which have antibacterial, astringent, anti-inflammatory and hemostatic properties. They surely won’t make things worse!
If natural flea remedies didn’t help much against the itch, use some artificial itching medications, such as:
- Calamine lotion (we particularly recommend Aveeno Anti-Itch Concentrated Lotion for ~$4.90).
- Hydrocortisone cream (– Cortizone-10 Max Strength Cortizone-10 Crème is a best seller for ~$4.93).
Hydrocortisone is a moderate steroid cream, whereas calamine lotion contains iron oxide for treating mild itching.
If you can’t take the itching anymore and it gets more intense instead of weakening, consult a doctor since you may have experienced an allergic reaction. A specialist will prescribe you an antihistamine, which will stop the itching and allergy symptoms. If you are aware of your insect bite allergy, use your regular anti-allergy pills.
Please note: if you’ve been bitten and you suddenly feel substantially worse (e.g. local skin damage is serious or you feel overall unwell), consult a specialist immediately and don’t waste time on self-treatment!
How to Prevent Flea Bites?
In order to prevent flea bites, you have to eliminate all the possible causes of fleas appearance at your place. For that you’ll have to:
- Arrange the best dog flea treatment and cat flea treatment, if you’ve found your pets have fleas. This might as well be the most important tip since people are usually bitten by their pets’ fleas: these insects can easily jump from one victim to another and thus they will bite you and your kids;
- get rid of fleas in your house with the help of the most effective chemicals and products, including flea foggers;
- keep your house clean, don’t wear street shoes at home, vacuum clean the carpets, floor and furniture, where fleas might settle;
- In order to prevent a relapse, eliminate all the rodents and bats at home as they are the carriers of rat and other fleas.
Also make sure you follow some common sense rules:
- Don’t pat stray animals, as they are likely to have fleas which can jump over on you unnoticed;
- Don’t go into unsanitary rooms as you can bring flea eggs or even adult fleas from there;
- When out picnicking, take some long-sleeved clothes and full-length pants with you in order to avoid flea bites on legs and ankles (most often fleas attack the legs);
- Wash your pets’ paws after taking them for a walk and inspect their fur so that no fleas could enter your house.
Some powerful repellents with high DEET concentration could be used as a protective measure as they repel lots of insects including fleas. We recommend that you use the best-selling Repel 100 Insect Repellent Pump Spray for ~$7.97 which contains 98.11 % of DEET. Don’t apply such powerful products on your kids’ skin, though.
Although now you know how to identify and treat flea bites, we really hope that the prevention methods we’ve listed will help you to never encounter fleas. Keep your house clean and guard yourself and your pets against fleas. Last but not least, don’t let your pets sleep in the same bed with you!