The ever-agile, flightless insects that suck blood from the body of their hosts & can cause a lot of pain, did you guess it? Yes, we are talking about the ruthless fleas.
1. What are Fleas?
Belonging to the order of Siphonaptera, Fleas are external parasites that live on the exterior of their hosts & suck blood from the body and thus got inducted into the category of ectoparasites which are parasites that live on the exterior of the post.
1.1. Physical Characteristics
Most fleas are small, wingless insects that suck on the blood of their hosts. An adult flea which is around 0.1 to 0.32 cm in length, feeds exclusively on the blood of mammals and birds.
Though wingless, they are very agile i.e., they can jump large distances in contrast to their size which helps them change hosts quickly.
1.2. Common Types
1.2.1. Cat and Dog Fleas
Cat fleas are the most common type of fleas that can be found worldwide. It doesn’t only make cats their hosts but rather has a variety of hosts including dogs, humans, and other animals as well.
Dog fleas primarily infest your furry friends i.e. dogs, but can also affect cats, humans, and other animals. Discomfort and itching in their hosts can be caused by dog fleas apart from transmitting diseases.
1.2.2. Humans Fleas
Known by the scientific name of Pulex irritans. The human flea primarily infests humans but can also affect other mammals, including pigs and domesticated animals.
Human fleas were associated with poor sanitation and crowded living conditions in the past though have become a little rare in recent times. Flea bites can cause itching, redness, and allergic reactions in humans as hosts.
1.2.3. Sand Fleas
Known by the scientific name of Tunga penetrans. The sand flea, also known as the chigger flea or jigger, is found in tropical and subtropical regions.
Unlike other fleas, it burrows into the skin of its hosts, including humans, causing intense itching and skin lesions. Sand fleas are commonly encountered in sandy coastal areas.
1.2.4. Stciktight Fleas
Known by the scientific name of Echidnophaga gallinacea. The sticktight flea primarily infests poultry, such as chickens, turkeys, and ducks. It is a small, wingless flea that attaches firmly to the skin, particularly around the head and neck area of its avian hosts. Sticktight fleas can cause irritation, discomfort, and anaemia in poultry.
1.2.5. Northern and Oriental Rat Fleas
Known by the scientific name of Nosopsyllus fasciatus. The northern rat flea is another species that primarily infests rodents, including rats and mice.
It can also bite humans and other animals, but it is less commonly encountered than the oriental rat flea. This flea is associated with the transmission of diseases such as murine typhus.
Oriental Rat Fleas are known by the scientific name of Xenopsylla cheopis. This flea is of particular significance as it can transmit the bacteria responsible for the bubonic plague, also known as the Black Death, transmitted through rats.
1.3. Life Cycle
The life cycle of fleas consists of four main stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. For effective control and prevention strategies understanding the flea life cycle is crucial.
The flea life cycle begins when an adult female flea lays eggs on the host animal, typically within its fur or feathers. Female fleas can lay hundreds of eggs during their lifetime, usually in batches of around 20 at a time.
The eggs are small, oval-shaped, and white in colour. They are loosely attached to the host but easily fall off into the environment, such as carpets, bedding, or outdoor areas where the host rests or sleeps.
The eggs hatch within a few days to a couple of weeks, depending on environmental conditions like temperature and humidity.
Once the flea eggs hatch, they release tiny, worm-like larvae. Flea larvae are blind and negatively phototactic, meaning they avoid light and prefer dark, humid environments. They feed on organic debris, such as flea dirt (faeces), dead skin cells, and other organic matter found in the environment.
The larval stage typically lasts for 5-20 days, during which larvae go through several moults and grow in size. Flea larvae are vulnerable to desiccation and disturbances, so they tend to hide in carpets, bedding, cracks, and crevices.
After the larval stage, fleas enter the pupal stage, which is a cocoon-like structure. Pupation is a protective phase where the larvae transform into adults. The pupal stage can range from a few days to several months, depending on environmental conditions.
Flea pupae are resistant to external factors like insecticides, making them difficult to eliminate completely. During this stage, fleas undergo metamorphosis and develop into adult fleas.
Once the pupal stage is complete, an adult flea emerges from the cocoon. Adult fleas are small, wingless insects with flattened bodies that are well-adapted for moving through fur or feathers. They have sharp mouthparts designed for piercing the skin of their host and sucking blood.
Female adult fleas begin laying eggs within 24-48 hours after their first blood meal. Adult fleas can live for several weeks to several months, depending on environmental conditions and available food sources. They are highly mobile and can jump long distances relative to their body size, allowing them to easily move between hosts.
2. How do Fleas Reach the Doors of Your House?
There are a variety of means through which fleas can find their way to your homes and thus cause havoc in the ever-peaceful homes. These commonly include pets, wildlife, humans and other non-living things as possible carriers of fleas.
2.1. Wildlife and Pets as Primary Source
Through interactions with wildlife or stray animals’ fleas can be introduced to homes. Wild animals, such as raccoons, squirrels, rabbits, or mice, can carry fleas and spread them to the surrounding environment.
Stray cats or dogs can also transmit them to residential areas if they come in contact with fleas. Fleas from wildlife or stray animals can find their way into homes through open doors, windows, or gaps in the building structure since fleas are natural jumpers.
Your beloved pets, such as dogs, cats and other pets, are often the primary source of flea infestations in homes, through the pet’s skin they often hitch a ride. Your furry friend, dogs can catch fleas, while they are outdoors, especially in areas with high populations, such as parks, yards, or other infested environments. These fleas can then be transported into the home, where they can reproduce and infest the indoor environment.
2.2. Humans as Carriers
Fleas can hitch a ride on humans and be transported into homes. People who spend time in infested areas or come into contact with animals carrying fleas can unknowingly carry fleas on their clothing, shoes, or belongings. Fleas may then drop off and infest the home environment when the person enters the house.
2.3. Non-Living Things as Infestation Carriers
Fleas can also be introduced into homes through infested items or materials brought from external sources. Second-hand furniture, rugs, or carpets that have been infested with fleas or flea eggs can introduce fleas into a home environment.
Fleas may also be present in hay, straw, or other organic materials used for pet bedding or landscaping. Outdoor clothing or camping gear that has been in contact with fleas or infested areas can also serve as a means of introducing fleas into homes.
3. Health Risks Associated with the Fleas
All fleas carry a lot of potential health risks to both animals and humans alike apart from being a nuisance.
These include carrying diseases such as bubonic plague, murine typhus, and tapeworm infestation, among many others. They can even cause stress and a lot of discomfort, especially in animals.
3.1. Flea Bites and Allergic Reactions
Itching, redness, and discomfort can be caused by the bites of fleas in both humans and animals. Intense scratching can lead to secondary skin infections for both animals and humans alike.
In Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD), some individuals may develop an allergic reaction to flea saliva, resulting in more severe itching and skin inflammation
3.2. Transmission of Diseases
Fleas can transmit diseases through their bites which include the following:
- Bubonic Plague: Fleas were responsible for transmitting the bacteria Yersinia pestis, which causes bubonic plague. Plague cases still occur in some parts of the world though rarely.
- Murine Typhus: The oriental rat flea, can transmit the bacteria Rickettsia typhi, causing murine typhus in humans.
- Bartonellosis: Certain species of fleas can transmit Bartonella bacteria, leading to diseases such as cat scratch fever in humans.
- Tapeworm Infestation: Fleas can carry tapeworm eggs, and pets can become infested with tapeworms if they ingest fleas while grooming.
3.3. Stress and Discomfort
Flea infestations can cause significant stress and discomfort for pets, leading to behavioural changes, restlessness, and constant scratching or biting which can further lead to hair loss and red skin.
The overall well-being and quality of life can be affected for both humans and animals because of chronic itching and discomfort.
3.4. Anemia and Weakness
Anaemia can be caused because of significant blood loss, especially in young animals with weakened immune systems due to severe flea infestation. Symptoms such as weakness, pale gums, and decreased appetite can be exhibited by anemic pets.
4. How to Get Rid of Fleas in the House Fast?
There are a variety of ways that can be employed to control and prevent flea infestation in your houses. Here are a few tips which can be used for the same:
4.1. Isolation & Cleaning Pets is the First Step
Isolate the entire house until the cleaning is done to make sure no one can get infected.
Consult a veterinarian to choose an appropriate flea treatment for your pets with options like topical treatments, oral medications, or flea collars.
Treat all the pets in the household, whether they show signs of infestation or not. Make sure to groom and comb your pets with a flea comb regularly in order to remove adult fleas & flea waste. Or a flea collar can be put to use to cure the itchiness and prevent future infestations.
4.2. Treating Your House
Use a vacuum cleaner to vacuum all carpets, rugs, upholstered furniture, and pet’s bedding i.e. pet’s bed and own bedding as well while paying extra attention to areas where your pets sleep and spend the most time. Dispose of the vacuum bag or empty the canister immediately.
Wash bedding material, including pet beds, in warm water with the highest temperature recommended for the fabric. Later dry the material with high heat to kill any remaining fleas or eggs. Hot water and soapy water are the best methods for getting rid of the infestation.
A steam cleaner can be used on carpets, rugs, and upholstery to kill fleas and their eggs at high temperatures of usage. Baking soda is another alternative for cleaning which will eliminate them along with other pests.
4.3. Insecticides and Flea Control Products
Spray an insecticide specifically formulated for flea control around the infested area of your houses, focusing on areas where your pets spend most time i.e., carpets, pet bedding, etc.
Make sure to follow the instructions as it may have side effects as well. Consider using insect growth regulators (IGRs) or insecticides targeting flea eggs and larvae to break the flea life cycle.
4.4. Outdoor Areas can be the Bridge to your House
It is necessary to keep your yard neat and gardens outside your house clean which your pet may seem to be frequently visiting. Any organic matter or debris should be removed for they can be the thriving grounds for fleas. Use outdoor flea control products, such as sprays or granules or sprinkle cedar chips where their chances of residing are high.
4.5. Call the Professionals – The Pest Control Service
When the infestations become severe and prominent, it becomes necessary to call in the professionals i.e., the pest control service to eliminate fleas.
Professionals have expertise in identifying and treating infestations effectively and thus can really help in getting rid of them while at the same preventing fleas from returning.
Fleas can really cause a lot of trouble and carry many health issues with them but there are many ways through which we can get rid of them These include cleaning the house thoroughly, using insecticides in your houses, cleaning your pets and other animals like strays around you for any fleas, and making sure the area outside your houses is clean as well, as they can be the entry points for them.