Historically, fleas have been involved in devastating epidemics of plague throughout the world. The most common species is the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis. However, other species of fleas that are parasites of rodents are involved in the transmission of plague and murine typhus, both of which occur in the southwestern U.S. |
You are encouraged to learn more about the biology of fleas, especially the cat flea, so that you can make more informed decisions about health risks to you and your pets, how to avoid being bitten, how to prevent or suppress infestations, and whether flea control is warranted in and around your residence.
Cat fleas also are one of the hosts of the double pore dog tapeworm, Dipylidium caninum. This tapeworm is a parasite of dogs and cats, but it can infect children who ingest a cat flea in which an immature stage of the tapeworm exists. The immature stage of the tapeworm emerges from the ingested flea and begins to develop in the intestine of the child. This tapeworm does not cause obvious symptoms and is not a cause of serious disease, but you should consult with a physician if an infection is suspected. The most obvious sign of infection in a child is the appearance of a stage of the tapeworm, known as a "proglottid," in a child's bowel movement. A proglottid is whitish, about the size and shape of a pumpkin seed, and capable of undulating movements.
Bites of cat fleas can be very annoying to humans because chemicals in flea saliva stimulate an immune response that causes itching. The same immune response can be much more severe in dogs and cats, possibly producing a serious allergic response known as flea bite allergy in susceptible pets. You should take pets suffering from this condition to a veterinarian for treatment and consultation about approaches to flea control.
A flea of potential importance to vacationers in subtropical and tropical areas is the so-called "chigoe flea," Tunga penetrans. Larvae of this flea develop in sandy soil usually associated with pigs and pig feces. However, chigoe fleas also are found in the sand of coastal beaches, which explains another common name, "sand flea." Female T. penetrans infect people by penetrating into tender flesh between toes or into the soles of the feet. There, the 1-mm long females become embedded, begin to suck blood, and eventually develop eggs. As they do, their body swells about 80-fold, reaching the size of a pea and causing intense pain. Sites of infestation may become infected with bacteria and, if untreated, may eventually require amputation. The best prevention for vacationers is to avoid going barefoot in regions where this flea is common, including on beaches associated with the Caribbean Sea
Cat flea larvae and pupae are found in and around areas where pets are active and where they sleep. Indoors, common sites include pet sleeping mats, among fibers of thick carpets, in upholstered furniture, and on bed covers, if pets are allowed to sleep there. Outdoors, under warm and humid conditions, cat flea larvae and pupae can develop in certain sites were pets frequently rest. One of the most common is in moist, shaded soil beneath shrubs. Another site is in the small amount of soil found in joints of concrete walks and porches.
Adult cat fleas usually reside and feed on a single host dog or cat. Pet to pet transfer occurs when pets interact and when they sleep together, but transfer of cat fleas from infested pets to pet owners appears to be uncommon. The usual way in which a human gets bitten by a cat flea is when a "hungry" adult emerges from its pupal cocoon and jumps onto a person walking in their vicinity. The presence of flea bites on a person suggests that the home (or a barn) is supporting the development of flea larvae, which can be a continuous source of adult fleas that then infest your pets.
The cat flea also is capable of infesting and feeding on a range of domesticated animals. Common hosts include chickens and livestock, especially calves and pigs. Certain livestock production methods can provide ideal conditions for the development of very large numbers of flea larvae, including those associated with the use of straw that becomes contaminated with livestock urine and feces. Infested barns can be a continual source of adult cat fleas that can infest cats and dogs that sleep in them, and a source of flea bites to people who enter them.
(quoted from Purdue University Entomology Department Study).
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