Can humans get fleas and carry them? While humans aren’t the perfect host, every single one of us can actually carry fleas. Fleas can be a pain for any pet, but they don’t necessarily stop with our furry friends. Humans can carry fleas, especially those of us who keep cats and dogs in the house.
It doesn’t take long for an infestation to get out of hand. In fact, you may not even notice fleas are around at all until flea bites start showing up on your skin. It can be easy to miss them in fur, carpeting, and furniture.
It’s best to tackle a flea infestation as soon as possible, especially if you notice your family is getting bitten. Here, we’re going to answer some common questions about how humans catch fleas and how to get rid of them.
What You'll Learn
- 1 Human Fleas vs. Pet Fleas
- 2 Flea Transmission in Humans
- 3 Common Signs of Fleas in Humans
- 4 The Dangers of Fleas
- 5 Getting Rid of Human Fleas
- 6 Treating Human Flea Bites
- 7 Eradicating a Flea Infestations
- 8 Wrap Up
Human Fleas vs. Pet Fleas
It may come as a surprise that different types of animals attract different types of fleas. Many of us assume that fleas can easily transition from cat to dog or even to humans. However, they tend to stick to their preferred species if given a choice.
You can find cat fleas or Ctenocephalides felis in cats. Dog fleas, or Ctenocephalides canis, prefer to stick to our canine friends. The human variety is called Pulex irritans and is also common on pigs and mice. So as already mentioned, this means yes, humans can get fleas.
To the naked eye, all of these fleas look like nothing more than a black speck hopping across the floor. Under a microscope, however, you can see some differences in size and body morphology. Human fleas tend to be bigger than pet fleas, usually around 2 to 3.5mm in length, with a shorter, squatter abdomen.
Human fleas are present worldwide, though they’re more common in some areas than others. You can find them in many parts of North America and Europe. In some places in the U.S., human fleas are more prevalent than dog fleas. However, cat fleas are the most commonly seen of all.
While human fleas inhabit many areas, most people suffering from bites are just collateral damage from pet fleas. Often, flea bites come from either cat fleas or dog fleas attracted to the family pet. A growing infestation will force fleas away from their favorite host, and instead, encourage them to feed on human blood to survive.
It can be helpful to know what type of flea you’re dealing with when you notice the signs of an infestation. If you have a pet, you’re likely dealing with a species that they brought into the house. However, the only way to know for sure is to seek a vet, doctor, or lab that can identify the flea under a microscope.
Flea Transmission in Humans
If you notice signs of bites on you or other household members, you’re probably wondering where the fleas came from initially. Several common transmission methods can result in an infestation taking over your household.
Your Family Pet
If you have a pet, it’s a good bet that any flea bites you see come from cat or dog fleas looking for a snack. Most pets don’t transmit human fleas unless they’ve been in an infested area. Even then, human fleas tend to stick to their preferred host.
If you are unfortunate enough to get fleas as a human, they most likely didn’t come from your pet. Instead, you probably caught them from another person as you went about your day. Fleas are near invisible and can jump an impressive distance, making them the perfect hitchhikers.
Cat and human fleas can jump about eight inches forward and reach over five inches in height. Dog fleas can go even farther, with a maximum distance of about 20 inches. Even if you maintain your distance from other people and pets, fleas can still hop onto your person with ease.
All it takes is one or two fleas to start a full-blown infestation. They can hitch a ride in your hair, on your clothes, and if you travel, they can even make it home with you through your luggage. It can be nearly impossible to avoid fleas if you frequent other infested places.
Fleas aren’t just transmitted to us through our pets. Plenty of other animals are susceptible, including both wild and domesticated species. People who live or work near farms are particularly vulnerable to human flea infestations because human fleas are partial to pigs.
If you spend a lot of time outdoors, human fleas are also carried by a variety of wildlife commonly found in areas throughout the United States. Animals such as coyotes, foxes, skunks, and rats can pass human fleas around if they get close to you or your pet.
Common Signs of Fleas in Humans
If you suspect you have fleas, there are a couple of signs that you can look for to confirm an infestation. If you see multiple clues around the house, there’s a good chance that you’re already dealing with a formidable infestation. Humans can get fleas, and there’s some telling signs you can use to identify them.
You Have Bite Marks
Bite marks on your skin are one of the most obvious signs of a human flea infestation. They’ll often be itchy and sore near the bite, sometimes with a rash or raised skin around the area.
Sometimes, you’ll see a cluster of dark red dots around the swelling as well. It looks much like a mosquito bite, though less pink and inflamed. In general, you’ll see more flea bites around the feet and ankles, as these areas are readily available to hungry jumpers.
You See Flea Dirt
Flea dirt isn’t really dirt, but rather, excrement left behind as they feed. It looks like tiny specks in animal fur, in your hair, or on your sheets. Flea dirt consists of digested and dried blood, so it’s usually reddish-brown to black in color. If you’re not sure that what you’ve found is the result of fleas, put it on a damp paper towel. If it bleeds red on contact, then it’s most likely evidence of flea activity.
You Find Evidence on Your Pet
While human fleas prefer to feed on us, like pet fleas, they’ll eat whatever is readily available. This includes any pets in the home, particularly cats and dogs. You can look for signs of human fleas in their fur just as you would pet fleas.
Using a fine-toothed comb, brush them all over. Concentrate on areas such as behind the ears, under the legs, and around the base of the tail. You may find dirt trapped in the hair you pull away or find live fleas in the comb.
You Can See Fleas
With advanced infestations, you may need to look no further than your floor. Sometimes, you can see fleas hopping around in search of their next meal. They’ll appear as a barely visible dot darting on its own around the floor.
Fleas are most noticeable on flat, smooth surfaces such as tile or hardwood. However, you may also notice them on light-colored carpets, furniture, or draperies. If you find them in your hair, you’ll want to ensure that you use a good flea shampoo made for humans.
The Dangers of Fleas
Fleas aren’t just an itchy nuisance for the people living in your home. They pose a potential threat to your health. If you don’t keep bites clean and disinfected, you might develop a secondary skin infection. Those who are allergic to fleas may experience discomfort, rashes, and even anaphylactic shock. Fleas are also vectors of several potentially fatal human diseases.
Most of us are familiar with the plagues that decimated the world’s population around the middle ages. Though they didn’t know it at the time, the Black Death, or bubonic plague, came from flea bites. Those fleas carried the deadly disease because they fed on infected rats.Though we have much more sophisticated treatments nowadays, a handful of plague cases still pop up each year.
Flea-borne typhus or murine typhus comes from fleas that feed on rats. It’s not the flea bite itself that causes these symptoms, but the flea feces. When we scratch bites, we run microscopic, bacteria-riddled traces of flea droppings into the open wound. If treated quickly, most people are able to recover from flea-borne typhus.
Cat Scratch Disease
Bartonellosis or Cat Scratch Disease comes from a flea-borne bacteria. If a cat infested with fleas that carry the Bartonella bacteria scratches you, the bacteria can enter your bloodstream via the open wound. Symptoms are generally mild and easily treatable with antibiotics.
Tapeworms from fleas are rare in humans, but it does happen from time to time. Some fleas transmit Dipylidium, a type of tapeworm that targets pets such as cats and dogs. However, it’s a fairly opportunistic parasite, and it can infect humans as well when given a chance. If you accidentally swallow an infected flea, fortunately, it’s easy to diagnose and eradicate the resulting tapeworm. Most cases affect children, though adults are far from immune.
Francisella tularensis bacterium, a bacteria found in rabbits, rats, and other rodents can cause tularemia. If you’re dealing with a flea infestation, the fleas can hop to humans and transfer bacteria through their bite. Though it’s easy to treat with antibiotics, tularemia can become dangerous quickly if ignored.
Tungiasis is rare in North America but is endemic to tropical regions such as the Caribbean and Central America. Only a single species of flea carries the disease. Tunga penetrans, also known as the burrowing flea, the chigger flea, or the sand flea, burrows deep into the skin when it feeds. This condition can lead to rashes, irritation, and even serious infection.
Getting Rid of Human Fleas
As soon as you notice the presence of human fleas in your home, you should take steps to eradicate the infestation. You have to kill both the adults and the eggs, which are often much more resistant to cleaning efforts.
The best thing to do first is to identify potential sources of infestation. Often, fleas will make their nest in dark, cozy places such as on bedding, in clothing, or between carpet fibers. If the infestation doesn’t spread further than a single room, it may just take a good scrubbing and vacuuming to get rid of them.
If you have a more widespread infestation, it can be more challenging to get rid of every last flea. All it takes is to miss one, and you can find yourself with the same problem just a few weeks down the road. You should make sure that you thoroughly clean your house from top to bottom, including throwing pillowcases, sheets, and draperies in the wash. Pets should get a good cleaning as well to ensure that no stragglers are hiding in their fur.
If scrubbing your house doesn’t do the trick, you may have to take more drastic measures to rid yourself of fleas. Flea traps attract and kill fleas with toxic ingredients, while flea sprays allow you to target problem areas with chemicals. A flea bomb can fill an entire room with bug-killing fumes. With all of these methods, however, you have to be careful about exposing yourself and other household members to potential toxins.
If you have pets, you should take steps to ensure that they’re not able to harbor any stowaway fleas. You can give your pet an oral or natural topical treatment to help prevent an infestation. Some owners use a flea collar instead, which emits low-level insecticides strong enough to kill fleas without posing a risk to pets. Make sure you wash or replace pet beds.
Treating Human Flea Bites
Anyone who’s ever suffered from a flea bite knows what a pain they can be to deal with. Flea bites are itchy, uncomfortable, and can cause an unsightly rash in some people. Fortunately, there are several ways that you can treat flea bites at home.
It may seem like obvious advice, but for many, the only reason that their flea bites become an issue is because of relentless scratching. If you notice bite marks, no matter how much they itch, try to focus on something else and resist the temptation to touch them. Scratching can damage the skin, rub irritants such as bacteria and flea saliva into the wound, and increase your risk of infection.
Use Soothing Lotion
If the itching becomes too much, some over-the-counter solutions can ease the pain and give you temporary relief as the bites heal. Calamine lotion is commonly used as an anti-itching agent, as is cortisone. You can also use aloe vera, which has anti-inflammatory properties that can help to calm irritated skin. If you’re worried about infection, gently clean the wound using vinegar or rubbing alcohol.
Use a Cold Compress
Sometimes all it takes to soothe an aching flea bite is a trip to the freezer. A cold compress can work wonders on itchy and irritated skin. It helps to reduce inflammation while also numbing the area. You don’t necessarily need a specialized cold compress. Instead, you can use anything from a pack of frozen beans to a wet, chilled towel.
For people with sensitive skin or who are prone to allergies, topical medication isn’t always enough. Taking an antihistamine can sometimes help with flea bites accompanied by rashes and irritation. It can help calm an overactive immune system and reduce swelling and itching around bite sites over time. Before taking any new medication, always make sure to speak to your doctor about potential side effects.
If your flea bites worsen or won’t go away, you may want to see your primary care physician. Some cases require prescription-strength medication to treat. You may also need antibiotics for any infected bites.
Eradicating a Flea Infestations
Even if it looks like you’ve successfully gotten rid of a human flea infestation, you should keep a close eye on things for a few weeks in case the problem resurfaces. Use natural deterrents like lemon spray to prevent fleas from sticking around. Check yourself and your pet regularly for signs of bites, and look to make sure there’s no flea dirt in your bedsheets.
Many times, people get rid of adult fleas without realizing that there are hundreds to thousands of tiny eggs still lying around their house. It can take anywhere from two to fourteen days for fleas to hatch. Even if it’s been weeks since you’ve seen signs of flea activity, you may still be battling an infestation as more eggs hatch.
Make sure that you continue to give your house a few thorough cleanings even after you stop noticing fleas or flea dirt. You should continue to vacuum, mop, sweep and do laundry regularly for at least a month to ensure that you’ve entirely eradicated every last flea egg.
If you notice that you have flea bites, the odds are that your cat or dog has brought pet fleas into the house. However, it’s also possible that you have an infestation of human fleas that come from a different source.
You need to tackle the issue as soon as possible for the health of your household. With the right tools and due diligence, you can turn your home into a flea-free zone. Just remember that it takes some effort to keep it that way!