Flea Bites and Your Skin Health
Fleas are rather cosmopolitan insects. They are found anywhere man or animals are available as hosts. They live on many species of animals, both domestic and wild. Some prefer a specific host, but generally they will bite whomever is available for a blood meal. Fleas are found throughout America, and are especially common in California because of its mild climate.
Fleas are small, reddish-brown, hard-bodied insects. Adult fleas are 1 to 4 mm long (about 1/16 inch) and are wingless. The legs are long and slender and the posterior pair (hind legs) are elongated for jumping. Fleas can jump about 2 feet. They are rather elusive and when caught are difficult to crush. Their lifespan may be as long as two years. They can survive for months without food, sometimes well over a year.
Flea bites tend to be seasonal, except in the warmest climates of the south and west, where they can occur year round. Flea bites are usually grouped, because the flea wanders around a particular area biting at random. Bites are usually on the legs, arms, and face. A tiny red dot (punctum) can sometimes be seen in the center of the bite. Small blisters occasionally appear on the bumps and sometimes large blisters form. Flea bite reactions most often affect children between the ages of two and seven. Typical flea bites are small, firm bumps. These bumps may be bright red and wheal-like, or dull red to brown.
Like mosquitoes, fleas may be more attracted to some individuals than to others. Body odor, age, and sex hormones may contribute to these differences. The major determinant in flea bite reactions, however, is individual sensitivity. This situation is analogous to that seen with mosquito bites. Those who have not been bitten will not be sensitive and persons who have been bitten many times may well lose their sensitivity.
Allergic sensitization to flea bites follows a definite and characteristic sequence. Initially, there is no reaction. Sensitivity develops suddenly, usually several days later. Original bite sites, heretofore quiescent, may erupt into firm bumps (delayed reaction). Then comes a period when the firm bumps develop about twenty-four hours after new bites. Immediate reactions (wheals within thirty minutes of the bites) begin to appear and the delayed reaction gradually fades away. The wheals of the immediate reaction resolve within a few hours, while the bumps of the delayed reaction last several days. A period of immediate reactions alone follows. Finally, a state of immunity is reached in which there are no reactions at all. This chain of events is reminiscent of the sequence seen with mosquito bites.
Treatment for Flea Bites
Itching may be controlled' by topical medications and antihistamines by mouth. If scratching results in breaks in the skin, measures to prevent infection, such as cleansing the sites and applying topical antibiotics or antiseptics, should be employed. Scratch marks may be deep. Keeping the nails clipped as short as feasible may be helpful to minimize trauma from scratching.
Prevention for Flea Bites
Fleas in and around the house must be controlled. Family pets are usually the source. Dogs and cats should be treated periodically and prophylactically, since they will become reinfested after contact with other animals. Lindane dust or shampoos can be used on dogs. Several powders are available for puppies and cats. Deet is probably the most satisfactory flea repellent.