How to Get Rid of Sand Fleas: Bites, Treatment, and Control

Sand Fleas: Facts, Identification, & Control

Sand Fleas

How Did I Get Sand Fleas?

Itchy bites and welts received at beaches, marshes, and other coastal areas often come from sand fleas. There are many creatures called «sand fleas» by people at the beach, but true sand fleas are actually crustaceans, not insects, and cause no harm to humans or pets. In some areas, these critters are called beach fleas.

Still, these bites irritate skin and are similar to those delivered by the more familiar cat and dog flea species. If you or your pets are exhibiting symptoms of flea bites, your home may be infested with cat or dog fleas.

How Serious Are Sand Fleas?

True sand fleas will not live in homes, infest cats or dogs, and are usually simply a nuisance due to their bites. However, chigoes, a pest often mistaken for the sand flea, can cause great pain when they bore into the soles of people’s feet. Since sand fleas eat seaweed, they are most likely to be found in large numbers where sea vegetation is washed up on the beach.

How Do I Get Rid of Sand Fleas?

In order to properly determine the pest and the threat, it is important to have the culprit identified, so it is best to collect the pest and have it identified. Contact your veterinarian for treatment options and call a pest control professional to discuss treatment and control methods.

What Orkin Does

Your local Orkin technician is trained to help manage sand fleas and similar pests. Since every building or home is different, your Orkin technician will design a unique program for your situation.

Orkin can provide the right solution to keep sand fleas in their place…out of your home, or business.

Behavior, Diet, & Habit

Most people describe sand fleas as very small animals which bite people, leaving welts similar to that of a flea. These welts can be caused by a multitude of animals near sandy or coastal areas. There are also sand flies which bite people and are found in sandy areas including desert areas. Sand flies also leave itchy welts.

Pests Mistaken for Sand Fleas

Besides fleas and flies, there are biting gnats and midges which may leave welts, so there are multiple possibilities. Cat and dog fleas are commonly blamed for «sand flea» bites from small biting flies found in coastal areas.

Chigoe (Tunga penetrans) is a type of insect found in tropical areas. This too is sometimes incorrectly called a sand flea. Tungiasis is the skin disorder caused by these fleas. Reports of individuals in North America are from tourists to other areas of the world. The adults burrow into the host’s skin, usually the feet.

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Sand Flea Bite Treatments

In many cases, a trip to the beach means a sand flea bite or several bites. What are sand fleas and should I be concerned if I get bitten?

What is a Sand Flea?

A sand flea is also known by many other names. For example, this crustacean (although it resembles an insect, the sand flea is actually not one) is also called a sand fly, beach flea, hop-a-long, no-see-um, biting midge, and punkie or punky.

The sand flea is less than 1/8 of an inch (3 mm) long and is often difficult to see.

It is a shrimp-like creature in appearance and ranges in color from pale to brownish. The body has seven segments and it has long legs that are used for swimming or jumping. They are known to jump to a height of at least 40 cm and therefore, it is unusual to experience a sand flea bite on upper body parts unless the victim was lying down. The bites are normally found in clusters around the ankles.

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Sand fleas feed on organic and decaying plants. A favorite treat is seaweed on the beach. Whenever seaweed washes to shore, there will be a large number of sand fleas around and a sand fly bite is likely to occur. In general, the sand on the beach is a popular location for these fleas to live.

Bites from Sand Fleas

A bite from a sand flea is most likely to occur at dawn or in the evening and night time hours on the beach or other sandy areas that are near water. Wetlands, swamplands, creeks, and lakebeds are other areas where sand fleas can be found. Sand fleas generally stay close to their breeding ground. They never wander more than 350 feet or about 100 meters from their breeding area. Sand flea swarms produce a high-pitched wine. Therefore, if you are on the beach and you hear something like this, it is best to move or risk a sand flea bite.

Bites from Sand Fleas

The fleas will jump onto the feet, ankles, legs, and then bite. They are very persistent and quite annoying. Because of their small size, a sand flea bite occurs before individuals even know any sand fleas were in the area. Like a mosquito, a sand flea bites to suck blood. It is the female sand fly that bites. It does this in order to get the protein from the blood that is necessary for its egg laying. The bite of a sand flea involves the injection of saliva to thin the blood, making it easier for the flea to take blood from its victim. This same saliva triggers the body’s immune system to react.

Bites from Sand Fleas

Despite its size, the bite from a sand flea is quite painful. In fact, most of the time the bite is more painful than one from a typically larger mosquito. In addition to pain, the bite causes a large welt or rashes on the skin that can persist for several days. A fever may also occur. The welts or hives produced from bites are very itchy. Scratching the bitten areas should be avoided in order to prevent the development of an infection. Scratching will also prolong the symptoms of swelling, itch, and skin redness.

Diseases Caused by Bites

Sand flea bites are also known to carry various diseases such as Carrions disease, the Pappataci fever virus, and various parasites that can cause conditions such as Leishmaniasis.

Leishmaniasis is not as widely known as malaria, but is just as painful and dangerous. Because the sand flea feeds on human blood, there is the possibility of transferring protozoan parasites that are responsible for this disease to humans.

Leishmaniasis is more likely to be encountered in the Mediterranean, North Africa, The Middle East, South East Asia, Central America, and the Caribbean.

There are various forms of the disease:

  • Mucocutaneous: Skin ulcers form which spread and cause tissue damage to the nose and mouth areas in particular.
  • Diffuse Cutaneous: Widespread skin lesions develop which resemble leprosy.
  • Cutaneous: This is the most common form of Leishmaniasis and is characterized by numerous skin sores on the body that develop weeks or months after experiencing a bite from a sand flea. The sores usually leave scars that can be quite disfiguring.
  • Visceral: This is the most serious form of the disease and can be fatal if left untreated.
Other problems, which may become present anywhere from a few months to years after the bites occurred include fever, damage to the spleen and liver, and anemia.

Sand Flea Bite Treatment

Treatment procedures and prevention steps for a sand fly bite are similar to those of mosquitoes. If more severe reactions are encountered or if there are signs of Leishmaniasis, then the sand fly bite requires professional medical treatment. As of 2006, there is no vaccine to combat Leishmaniasis caused by a sand flea bite.

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Flea Diseases

Do Fleas Carry Diseases?

You may have experienced fleas before and thought nothing of them, but fleas can be dangerous. Fleas carry diseases that can be passed on to you and your loved ones, including your pets.

Most pet owners have encountered fleas when their pets are constantly scratching themselves. Fleas are small, brown, parasitic insects that need blood to survive. Warm-blooded animals are their go to, often being found in the fur of cats and dogs.

Fleas aren’t very picky about whose blood they will drink, which is why they often bite humans as well. Since they go from host to host drinking blood, a single flea can harm several beings. Fleas transmit a variety of diseases, some of which can be deadly. They are also known to trigger allergies, which can damage the skin and lead to infections.

Flea Diseases

Bubonic Plague (The Black Death)

In the 14 th Century, The Black Death killed hundreds of millions of people. It was spread by Oriental rat fleas that live on the fur of sewer rats and other kinds of wild rats. Almost one-third of Europe’s population was wiped out because of this deadly plague. Spread by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, the plague affected so many from being bitten by infected fleas and the rats that they lived on.

Bites from Sand Fleas

Fleas were especially found on the ships (which had rats), which is why the infectious diseases spread from port to port. Symptoms of the plague are pus-filled swellings, high fever, chills, and chronic body plain. However, in the modern world, bubonic plague is a rare phenomenon. Powerful antibiotics can successfully combat the few bubonic plague cases that crop up.

Murine typhus

Fleas feast on the blood of animals that carries the bacteria that cause these diseases. Murine typhus (also known as endemic typhus, flea-borne typhus, shop fever, and jail fever) is a disease transmitted primarily by cat fleas. Rats are carriers of Murine typhus (caused by bacterium Rickettsia typhi ), and fleas become carriers of these as well.

Your pet is probably the one that will bring this diseases home, as its fur will have fleas that are carriers. Humans get Murine typhus by getting bitten by an infected flea. Symptoms of this disease are fever, nausea, headache, and body pain.

If your pet has fleas and you get the symptoms mentioned above, rush to a doctor immediately. This disease can be entirely cured if immediate medical help is given. The antibiotic doxycycline effectively combats Murine typhus and can be given to people of all ages.

Tularemia

The bacterium Francisella tularensis causes a disease common in North America, Tularemia (known as rabbit fever). Rats and rabbits are carriers of this bacterium, and so fleas and even ticks become carriers of this as well.

In the US, most cases of rabbit fever occur in the warmer months. The disease is not directly spread among people; only the bite of fleas and ticks or contact with the diseased animal can spread the disease. Symptoms of this disease are high fever, chills, skin ulcers, enlarged lymph nodes, and diarrhea. Antibiotic treatments lasting up to two weeks are used to cure people of this disease.

Tapeworms

Tapeworms are notorious parasites that dwell in the intestines of animals and humans. Fleas are carriers of tapeworm eggs, and your pet can get infected by accidentally eating the flea while grooming itself. Children can also get tapeworms when they play outside and put toys and other items in their mouth (the toys might have fleas on them).

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If your house has a serious flea infestation, almost every other item will be contaminated by fleas and the tapeworm eggs they carry. Symptoms of having a tapeworm aren’t always noticeable, but some of them are nausea, stomach pain, weight loss, and diarrhea. Treatment for tapeworms is easily available, which includes medicines that cause the tapeworm to dissolve in the intestine.

However, many people often go weeks or months without realizing that they have a tapeworm growing inside them. The longest tapeworm ever found in the intestine of a human was 6.6 feet long. Sounds like a much better idea to take preventive measures against fleas and the tapeworms they carry, right?

Tungiasis

The most common disease associated with fleas. Tungiasis is a skin infestation and infection that takes place when the chigoe flea ( Tunga penetrans ) bites and burrows into the skin of humans. The chigoe flea is known by many names, such as jigger, chigger flea, sand flea, nigua, Tunga flea or plague. These fleas go deep into the skin, reaching the upper epidermis, to feed on the blood vessels present there.

This disease was first reported in the 16 th Century in the crewmen of the ship that Christopher Colombus sailed in. Chigoe fleas are native to sandy, tropical places like the Carribean (and are often found burrowed in the sand), but can spread easily to other places by hitching a ride on hosts. The chigoe flea cannot jump vast distances, which is why the site of infection are often the feet.

Symptoms include primarily pus-filled lesions that are white with a black dot (hole) in the center. The black dot is the hole that the chigoe flea uses to breathe through. Redness and swelling are seen around these lesions, which are often extremely itchy.

The infection usually goes away on its own, but in some cases requires urgent medical treatment. In such instances, the fleas are forcibly extracted or are suffocated within the lesion using medicines and creams.

Cat scratch fever or disease

This affects cats primarily and is spread by the Bartonella henselae bacterium which is often carried by fleas. Cats can spread this disease to humans by licking the latter’s wounds or by scratching their skin. In cats, symptoms of this disease include red eyes, vomiting, loss of appetite and swollen lymph nodes. In humans, this disease can affect internal organs (however, such cases are rare).

It is important to make sure that your cat is regularly checked for fleas, as they may be carrying this disease which can lead to further medical complications for both you and your cat.

Flea allergy dermatitis

As the name suggests, flea allergy dermatitis is a skin allergy caused by the saliva of fleas. Commonly seen in dogs and cats, the symptoms of this include papulocrustous lesions, broken off hair, alopecia, hyperpigmented skin, and scaling.

Flea allergy dermatitis occurs when the pet’s skin reacts exaggeratedly to the enzymes present in the saliva of the flea that is biting it. This allergy can lead to extreme discomfort in the pet, which can lead to self-trauma and severe scratching that can damage the skin.

It is important to seek medical help as soon as any of the symptoms are noticed. Make sure that your pets are free from fleas, as the little bloodsuckers can cause far more problems than just simple itching.

If you have fleas in or around your home, it’s best you take action as soon as possible. Fleas not only cause discomfort and stress, as you can see fleas carry a lot of diseases as well. If you think you have any of these diseases, seek medical attention right away. It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to flea diseases.***

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