Fleas on Humans
While fleas are usually associated with cats, dogs, and other domesticated and non-domesticated animals, the parasitic insects frequently pose threats to humans, as well. Some of the flea species common in New England, including the widespread cat flea, can and will bite humans when given the opportunity. Despite its common name, the cat flea often affects dogs and humans in addition to felines.
The aptly named human flea also feeds on the blood of humans as well as pigs. Although fleas bite humans, most species prefer to use other animals as hosts, as human bodies lack the thick coats of fur in which the ectoparasites like to hide. Humans are most susceptible to flea bites when handling or sleeping in the same quarters as an infested pet.
What Do Flea Bites Look Like on Humans?
When fleas bite humans, the insects tend to target the ankles and other areas of the lower leg. Flea bites typically produce itchy welts that are small in size, red in color, hard to the touch, and encircled by a reddish halo. The welts represent an allergic reaction to flea saliva and feature a tiny perforation in the center where the mouthparts of the bloodsucking insect pierced the skin.
Symptoms & Diseases
Fleas often bite humans multiple times during a feeding session, causing the welts to form in clusters or rows of itchy, raised bumps. Some people react more severely to flea bites and develop hives or a rash that may persist for several weeks.
Symptoms of the most severe allergic reactions to flea bites can actually last for more than a year. Young children generally demonstrate higher sensitivity to flea bites than adults.
In addition to producing welts or rashes on humans, flea bites have the potential to transmit a handful of serious diseases. The most serious disease spread by certain flea species is bubonic plague, historically known as the Black Death, which killed approximately 25 million people in Europe during the Middle Ages. Though rarely encountered in modern times and easily resolved with antibiotics, bubonic plague can quickly result in death if left untreated.
The spread of the disease occurs when fleas feed on the blood of an infected rodent and then come into contact with humans. Fleas that use rodents as host animals can also spread murine typhus, which causes headaches, body aches, and fever in humans. Another disease sometimes transmitted by the parasitic insects is tularemia, which shares many of the same characteristics as bubonic plague and originates with cottontail rabbits.