To know about how to win a war, it helps to have insider information about the enemy. Similarly, to handle a flea infestation, knowing their life cycle is important. Fleas are tiny, 1/8th of an inch, horizontally flat, very dark red in color and wingless. They have very strong and sharp, piercing mouths for sucking in their favorite meal, blood.
Most start life as microscopic eggs. The eggs turn into tiny larvae which later become pupae and snug inside tiny cocoons. The cocoons with these smart pupae then snuggle into our carpets, upholstery and other comfortable places; and wait for something warm-blooded to come along, so they can start their life.
As soon as the warm-blooded comes in contact with them, they crack open their cocoon within few seconds, launch themselves onto the unwary host who is more often than not ignorant of this invasion. They sharpen their fangs and suck blood. If it was a female, she starts laying eggs within few days of her first blood meal and go on for her entire life cycle.
Most frequent Areas of Flea Infestations
Carpets and Rugs
Studies have shown an alarmingly high incidence of flea infestation on carpets and pets. The carpets are supposed to add grace to our interiors; but they actually are the hotbed of flea infestation because they are warm, untouched and soft where flees lay eggs. A female flea can lay up to 50 eggs in a day and each of these can cause innumerable diseases.
They can also travel on to your vehicle and its upholstery, especially since that's one area of warm, soft fabric that is not very regularly washed and cleaned.
Diseases Caused by Flea Infestations
To understand the seriousness, knowing the risks of flea infestation in homes, on family pets, and even in vehicles is important. Some of the lesser known diseases caused by fleas include:
Murine or endemic typhus is an infection that causes fever, headache, chills, body aches, and pains and in most cases needs a blood test for correct diagnosis. It spreads from either of the two bacterium, the Rickettsia typhi or Rickettsia prowazekii.
Endemic typhus is very rare in the United States of America, however Murine typhus cases have been found in Southern and South Eastern parts of America, especially during summer and rainy seasons.
The infection shows itself in a span of seven days and is not critical and can be easily cured with antibiotics. It spreads from the feces of rats, and fleas that drink the blood of rats. When these fleas bite your pet, and leave their droppings on the pet's fur, it can infect the pet as well as the people in the house.
This is caused by the female of sand flea or ectoparasitic Tunga penetrans flea. It is the smallest flea in the world and is vastly spread all over the world, especially sandy terrains. She burrows through the skin on the feet, breeds and settles in there, causing lacerations and painful ulcers and this may even lead to tetanus or gangrene if left untreated.
This flea can live on all types of animals which of course would include house pets, from where it can latch on to humans as well. The flea latches onto the soles of the feet and hands, therefore never venture out without your shoes and do not play with sand and mud, and always wash your hands thoroughly.
Some fleas also cause transmission of worms like tapeworm between humans and pets. Fleas have tapeworm eggs within them, as the tapeworm uses these fleas as convenient parasitic vector. When the flea defecate; the eggs latch on to the host. That host is predominantly your pet.
Flea tapeworm in humans is unlikely but possible, if you do not wash your hands properly, after handling your pet. The tapeworm eggs can get stuck beneath your fingernails, and nooks and find their way into your mouth.
Cat Scratch Fever
The infection spreads to the cat from the bacteria Bartonella henselae. It is caused when a flea with this bacteria, bites a cat and infects it. After which if the cat bites, scratches or licks on a human wound, it can lead to this fever. The symptoms are seen within a span of five to seven days. This fever is curable with antibiotics.
More frightening is the flea that lodges on rats, and through their blood, carries the deadly bacteria, Yersinia Pestis, that causes plague.
Getting Rid of Fleas
- The most important thing is to remember that once the cleanup process starts, it will have to include fleas from all life stages. Eggs will have to be scrubbed out, larvae and pupae removed and adult fleas destroyed.
- Adult fleas can be flushed out easily but the larvae can't, so the option is to shampoo the carpets regularly. Some carpet cleaning chemicals may also help, for instance, try spraying diatomaceous earth (DE) on the carpets, in cracks and crevices of furniture and all over rugs. In fact rugs should be machine washed regularly, and so should bedding of pets.
- One could opt for borate based carpet cleaners, or borate powder can be mixed in a rug shampooing machine for cleaning up the rug well off flea eggs and larvae.
- A good strategy will be to combine a chemical that kills adult fleas with insect development inhibitors like Mithoprene and Pyriproxyfen that will prevent the eggs and larvae from developing into adults. Borate based powders are also effective against fleas for up to one year.
There is no need for steam cleaning after applying these but be sure to spread it well, under beds, couches and all over rugs and carpets. All of these chemical treatments should be followed by thorough vacuuming.
- Of course, severe infestation needs professional consultation. To keep your carpet free of fleas the best idea is to regularly shampoo and vacuum the mats and upholstery.
However in case of severe infestation, it is advisable to see a vet and get proper medication under medical supervision.
Here are some home remedies to ward off flea infestations. But, if the infestation is severe already; none of these will be effective.
- The Pennyroyal plant is flea repellent, it can be planted around the house or kept indoors.
- Pieces of Cedar wood kept under beds, and in corners around the house act as flea repellents. Eucalyptus leaves are also effective.
- To keep your pets free of fleas, steep six cut lemons in half in a quart of water for a few hours. Spray this liquid onto your pet's coat. Avoid the eyes. Similar solutions can be made using natural repellents like neem, cedar, eucalyptus and rosewood.
However, if your pet is already suffering from severe infestation, it may not help greatly. Some essential oils like lemongrass, lavender and citronella can also help in keeping your pets free of fleas, and at the same time has a soothing as well as healing effect on them.