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Fleas

Pulicosis; Dog fleas; Siphonaptera

Fleas are small insects that feed on the blood of humans, dogs, cats, and other warm-blooded animals.

Causes

Fleas prefer to live on dogs and cats. They may also be found on humans and other warm-blooded animals.

Pet owners may not be bothered by fleas until their pet has been gone for a long period of time. Fleas look for other sources of food and begin to bite humans.

Symptoms

Bites often occur on the legs and places where clothes fit close to the body, such as the waist, buttocks, thighs, and lower abdomen.

Symptoms of flea bites include:

  • Small red bumps, often three bumps together, that are very itchy
  • Blisters if the person has an allergy to flea bites

Exams and Tests

Usually, a diagnosis can be made when the health care provider examines the skin where the bites are. Questions may be asked about contact with animals such as cats and dogs.

In rare cases, a skin biopsy is done to rule out other skin problems.

Treatment

You can use an over-the-counter 1% hydrocortisone cream to relieve itching. Antihistamines you take by mouth may also help with itching.

Possible Complications

Scratching can lead to a skin infection.

Fleas can carry bacteria that cause diseases in humans, such as typhus and plague. The bacteria can be transmitted to humans by flea bites.

Prevention

Prevention may not always be possible. The goal is to get rid of the fleas. This can be done by treating your home, pets, and outside areas with chemicals (pesticides). Small children should not be in the home when pesticides are being used. Birds and fish must be protected when chemicals are sprayed. Home foggers and flea collars do not always work to get rid of fleas. Always consult your veterinarian for help.

References

Habif TP. Infestations and bites. In: Habif TP, ed. Clinical Dermatology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 15.

James WD, Berger TG, Elston DM. Parasitic infestations, stings, and bites. In: James WD, Berger TG, Elston DM, eds. Andrews' Diseases of the Skin: Clinical Dermatology. 12th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 20.

    • Flea

      Flea - illustration

      Different types of fleas prefer specific animals as hosts, but will infest humans if their specific hosts are unavailable. Fleas can carry plague and typhus. They are also thought to transmit several other diseases. (Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

      Flea

      illustration

    • Flea bite - close-up

      Flea bite - close-up - illustration

      Fleas are blood-feeding insects. Pain and itching results from an allergic reaction to the materials that the fleas inject into the skin at the time of the bite.

      Flea bite - close-up

      illustration

      • Flea

        Flea - illustration

        Different types of fleas prefer specific animals as hosts, but will infest humans if their specific hosts are unavailable. Fleas can carry plague and typhus. They are also thought to transmit several other diseases. (Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

        Flea

        illustration

      • Flea bite - close-up

        Flea bite - close-up - illustration

        Fleas are blood-feeding insects. Pain and itching results from an allergic reaction to the materials that the fleas inject into the skin at the time of the bite.

        Flea bite - close-up

        illustration

      Review Date: 10/14/2018

      Reviewed By: Michael Lehrer, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Dermatology, University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

      The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., a business unit of Ebix, Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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