Flea bites on humans are surprisingly common, especially if you have any four-legged friends around the house. Even if you don’t have pets, your yard can potentially be home to fleas.
Fleas typically spend more than three-quarters of their life away from a host animal and they can live for weeks or even months without food in house’s carpets and bedding, or even your garden. At some point though, they will need to feed and you will feel those flea bites.
But how do you tell them apart from other insect bites and how do you treat them? Read on to find out more
Do Fleas Bite Humans?
Fleas bite to feed on the blood of mammals. Since we are mammals and have blood, fleas can live on human blood. This makes us a target for flea bites.
While these resilient little insects may have names like dog fleas and cat fleas all of these fleas bite many different mammals, including humans.
So, while some species of fleas may be better adapted to one animal over another, eg cat fleas or dog fleas, they are more than happy to take a bite out of plenty of other species!
How long can fleas live without a host?
An adult flea can live for several weeks without a blood feast, but the females cannot lay eggs without getting some blood. This means that sooner or later they are going to be looking for a meal and we make a pretty good meal for them regardless of their preferred meal.
How Long Do Flea Bites Last?
Flea bites can remain itchy and inflamed for several weeks. However if you scratch them, they can become inflamed and even get infected. Scratching these irritating spots is very tempting however it is important to try not to!
What Do Flea Bites Look Like?
Fleas are tiny, less than 2mm in length (or the size a pen tip) and wingless. To get around, they have developed strong rear legs that allow them to leap massive distances compared to their size, as much as 9 inches/22 cm! This allows them to jump onto any nearby victim and then move around on their victim.
Where do fleas bite?
Since they need to leap onto their prey, common places to find flea bites are around the feet, ankles and lower leg as fleas can easily leap to this height from the floor. Ankles and feet also have a good supply of blood near the surface of the skin, making it a good target for them.
Other common areas to find flea bites are often exposed areas that have a good blood supply. For example, flea bites often turn up around the fold of your elbow or knee, or where clothing is usually most snug against the skin such as your waist. They also like to be around areas of hair growth such as your head, armpit or groin, where they are hidden from view.
Flea bites generally have a slightly raised, itchy red bump with a single puncture point at the centre and a red halo around it. At first glance they look somewhat similar to a mosquito bite, however unlike a mosquito bite they remain small and you typically find them in a line or group.
A mosquito needs to fly away, so they cannot carry too much blood. This means they will simply bite, feed and then fly away. Fleas, on the other hand, does not fly so can take on board much more blood - as much as 140% of its body weight in fact!
This feeding can take quite some time, and femal fleas bite for longer than males as they need more blood to give birth etc. Typically female fleas bite for 25 minutes and males for 11 minutes, and require several bite points, hence the cluster of bites..
Due to the amount of time it takes, fleas often get disturbed when feeding, for example by the host’s clothing when they move, which can cause them to stop feeding and move a short distance before the flea bites again. This gives the tell-tale groups of bites.
Fleas bite and feed more than they need, excreting much of the blood they consume. This is an evolutionary tactic as the excreted blood falls to the floor, making a good source of food for flea larvae.
Are Flea Bites Dangerous to Humans?
Fleas bites were once a major danger to humans - they were responsible for transmitting the bubonic plague bacteria through the rat population but these days the treatment of bacteria and viruses makes this far less of a risk, especially in the developed world.
The eggs of tapeworm can also be passed into a human’s bloodstream via flea bites, but once again, this is a minimal risk in the developed world as quite simply there are not many tapeworms to spread the eggs of.
These days flea bites are generally more a nuisance than anything, however, there are circumstances where a bite can be more hazardous; infection and allergic reaction.
Infected Flea Bites
Fleas often defecate whilst feeding (although most of this is just undigested blood) and our fingernails can also often carry a lot of dirt so scratching can potentially move this into the wound, causing bacterial infections.
To address this, it is best to wash the bites with an antiseptic soap as soon as you notice them to reduce the chance of infection. However if you see white-topped blisters and/or a rash around the bites you should see a doctor as your bites may have become infected.
What to do if you have an allergic Reaction to Fleabites
You may find it surprising, but the bite itself is not what causes the reaction. Flea bites actually cause a tiny and generally very clean wound, but the flea also spreads its' saliva over the wound. Flea's saliva has several properties; it softens the skin, stops the blood clotting and acts as a numbing agent to prevent detection as they feed. It is the flea saliva that our bodies generally react to.
In this case of an allergic reaction, our immune system overreacts to the flea’s saliva and releases an excess of histamine, one of our body's natural defenses. Most of the time the symptoms are no worse than for something like hay-fever but, depending on the severity of the reaction, they could include:
- Severe itching
- A rash or hives on various parts of the body
- Shortness of breath, wheezing or difficulty breathing
- Swelling of the face, hands, mouth, or lips
Typically an anti-histamine like diphenhydramine (found in Benadryl and other allergy treatments) will alleviate these symptoms.
In the worst cases people can experience Anaphylaxis and even anaphylactic shock. This can be life threatening if it isn’t treated immediately. or use an epinephrine injection (EpiPen) if you’re having difficulty breathing.
Call 999 or go to A&E immediately if you believe you’re having a severe allergic reaction to a fleabite.
Why Do Flea Bites Itch?
As mentioned before Flea's saliva has several properties that help them feed on their host's blood. This is great for the flea but it stays in the wound and once the anesthetic effect wears off. Our body's reaction to this is the primary cause of the skin itching, not the actual bite itself.
How Do You Stop Flea Bites Itching?
Flea bites typically go away on their own but you should try to keep the itching under control while the bites heal as scratches can cause them to get infected.
Dealing with a flea infestation can be one thing but the itch of the flea bites are without a doubt one of the most annoying parts of pet ownership! So how do you stop flea bites itching?
The reason they are constantly itching is not down to the actual bite but our body's reaction to the various chemicals fleas use to make taking our blood easier. If stealing our blood was not rude enough, they leave and don't clean up their mess, leaving the chemicals in and around the bites.
To counter these foreign chemicals our bodies release histamines. For some people, this leads to an allergic reaction but for most people, it simply means we are left with an annoying itch while they do their job.
There are many remedies to address this, but broadly they fall into two camps - the ones that simply address the symptom (the itch) and those that address the histamine reaction, which are called anti-histamines.
Within these there are the remedies that are natural or made from things you can usually find around the house, and those made specifically to treat bites.
We will go into more details on these below
What is Histamine?
Histamine is secreted by basophils and mast cells as part of a local immune response to the presence of invading bodies such as flea saliva. This histamine release causes inflammation which allows our capillaries to become more permeable to white blood cells. These white blood cells target and attack foreign bodies in the affected tissue.
Histamines also perform several other important functions in the body. Along with being an important part of our immune response it acts as a neurotransmitter (a chemical messenger that carries signals from one nerve to another) and performs several important jobs in our bowels. Because of their important functions within our bodies, histamine is found in virtually all animals, so even though they are responsible for the annoying itch, they are saving us from much worse!
Histamines are a naturally produced inflammatory that our bodies use as part of our immune response. Anti-histamines limit this response, reducing the itch that is associated with the inflammation.
The itching of flea bites is caused by histamines that the body releases so taking an over the counter antihistamine like Benadryl is one solution that will help from the inside out. It will stop the body from releasing histamines and curb itching from the bitten areas.
Topical antihistamine sprays and creams
Anti-histamine creams and sprays are great for getting rid of itch associated with flea bites. They produce the same effect as the oral anti-histamines, but in the short term, they also provide some soothing relief to the skin. We have found that Fenistil Gel is a very effective way to stop the itching associated with flea bites.
Itch Relief Creams and Lotions
Many people use cortisone creams such as E45 or calamine lotion. These are very effective way to relieve itching for flea bites but these are some alternative remedies you might not have thought of to help in the relief of flea bites on children and adults.
Homemade Flea Bite Relief
There are also several treatments that can be made up from stuff most people will have around the house or available in your local store. While they may not be as effective as some of the creams and medicines we have mentioned above, they might be just what you need.
You can drink your tea and use the teabag too! After you have finished your tea, lay the tea bag gently on the affected area and it can help neutralize itching and promote healing. Black tea has healing properties and can be used effectively for stopping the itch of flea bites.
You can use baking soda for just about anything and it is safe and a cost effective remedy. Just mix a small bit of water with baking soda to form a paste and apply to the bites and within a few minutes, you should feel the itching subside within just a few minutes.
Aloe Vera is great for burns and other skin ailments however this is a great remedy to stop the itching and begin the healing of the flea bite. You can purchase bottles of it at the store and keep it on hand as it comes in gel form or, if you have grown an aloe vera plant, just pick a leaf, peel it open and apply to the area and rub generously and within a few minutes the itching should subside.
It may sound painful but after the sting, the itch does go away and the astringent power of lemon juice also cleanses the area of the bite so this is a two-fold method of treating flea bites.
Lavender oil and basil
Lavender oil and basil can also be used in a combination for flea bit inflammation and basil to reduce the itchy area of the bite. These two are natural and wonderful smelling remedy that soothes the senses and eases the itching.
While these techniques work well in treating the unpleasant symptoms of flea bites, the only long-term solution is to treat the actual cause. So once you have got yourself treated you need to look at the root cause and treat your pets and your home to make sure the infestation is gone so you will not have to contend with any further itching and scratching!
This usually means purchasing flea spray/drops, carpet shampoo, etc for your home and treatments plus other accessories like flea collars for your pets. You can read more about the best treatments for your home, your dog and cats here
- 1 Do Fleas Bite Humans?
- 2 Are Flea Bites Dangerous to Humans?
- 3 Why Do Flea Bites Itch?
- 4 What Next?