Do Fleas Carry Diseases?
You may have experienced fleas before and thought nothing of them, but fleas can be dangerous. Fleas carry diseases that can be passed on to you and your loved ones, including your pets.
Most pet owners have encountered fleas when their pets are constantly scratching themselves. Fleas are small, brown, parasitic insects that need blood to survive. Warm-blooded animals are their go to, often being found in the fur of cats and dogs.
Fleas aren’t very picky about whose blood they will drink, which is why they often bite humans as well. Since they go from host to host drinking blood, a single flea can harm several beings. Fleas transmit a variety of diseases, some of which can be deadly. They are also known to trigger allergies, which can damage the skin and lead to infections.
Bubonic Plague (The Black Death)
In the 14th Century, The Black Death killed hundreds of millions of people. It was spread by Oriental rat fleas that live on the fur of sewer rats and other kinds of wild rats. Almost one-third of Europe’s population was wiped out because of this deadly plague. Spread by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, the plague affected so many from being bitten by infected fleas and the rats that they lived on.
Fleas were especially found on the ships (which had rats), which is why the infectious diseases spread from port to port. Symptoms of the plague are pus-filled swellings, high fever, chills, and chronic body plain. However, in the modern world, bubonic plague is a rare phenomenon. Powerful antibiotics can successfully combat the few bubonic plague cases that crop up.
Fleas feast on the blood of animals that carries the bacteria that cause these diseases. Murine typhus (also known as endemic typhus, flea-borne typhus, shop fever, and jail fever) is a disease transmitted primarily by cat fleas. Rats are carriers of Murine typhus (caused by bacterium Rickettsia typhi), and fleas become carriers of these as well.
Your pet is probably the one that will bring this diseases home, as its fur will have fleas that are carriers. Humans get Murine typhus by getting bitten by an infected flea. Symptoms of this disease are fever, nausea, headache, and body pain.
If your pet has fleas and you get the symptoms mentioned above, rush to a doctor immediately. This disease can be entirely cured if immediate medical help is given. The antibiotic doxycycline effectively combats Murine typhus and can be given to people of all ages.
The bacterium Francisella tularensis causes a disease common in North America, Tularemia (known as rabbit fever). Rats and rabbits are carriers of this bacterium, and so fleas and even ticks become carriers of this as well.
In the US, most cases of rabbit fever occur in the warmer months. The disease is not directly spread among people; only the bite of fleas and ticks or contact with the diseased animal can spread the disease. Symptoms of this disease are high fever, chills, skin ulcers, enlarged lymph nodes, and diarrhea. Antibiotic treatments lasting up to two weeks are used to cure people of this disease.
Tapeworms are notorious parasites that dwell in the intestines of animals and humans. Fleas are carriers of tapeworm eggs, and your pet can get infected by accidentally eating the flea while grooming itself. Children can also get tapeworms when they play outside and put toys and other items in their mouth (the toys might have fleas on them).
If your house has a serious flea infestation, almost every other item will be contaminated by fleas and the tapeworm eggs they carry. Symptoms of having a tapeworm aren’t always noticeable, but some of them are nausea, stomach pain, weight loss, and diarrhea. Treatment for tapeworms is easily available, which includes medicines that cause the tapeworm to dissolve in the intestine.
However, many people often go weeks or months without realizing that they have a tapeworm growing inside them. The longest tapeworm ever found in the intestine of a human was 6.6 feet long. Sounds like a much better idea to take preventive measures against fleas and the tapeworms they carry, right?
The most common disease associated with fleas. Tungiasis is a skin infestation and infection that takes place when the chigoe flea (Tunga penetrans) bites and burrows into the skin of humans. The chigoe flea is known by many names, such as jigger, chigger flea, sand flea, nigua, Tunga flea or plague. These fleas go deep into the skin, reaching the upper epidermis, to feed on the blood vessels present there.
This disease was first reported in the 16th Century in the crewmen of the ship that Christopher Colombus sailed in. Chigoe fleas are native to sandy, tropical places like the Carribean (and are often found burrowed in the sand), but can spread easily to other places by hitching a ride on hosts. The chigoe flea cannot jump vast distances, which is why the site of infection are often the feet.
Symptoms include primarily pus-filled lesions that are white with a black dot (hole) in the center. The black dot is the hole that the chigoe flea uses to breathe through. Redness and swelling are seen around these lesions, which are often extremely itchy.
The infection usually goes away on its own, but in some cases requires urgent medical treatment. In such instances, the fleas are forcibly extracted or are suffocated within the lesion using medicines and creams.
Cat scratch fever or disease
This affects cats primarily and is spread by the Bartonella henselae bacterium which is often carried by fleas. Cats can spread this disease to humans by licking the latter’s wounds or by scratching their skin. In cats, symptoms of this disease include red eyes, vomiting, loss of appetite and swollen lymph nodes. In humans, this disease can affect internal organs (however, such cases are rare).
It is important to make sure that your cat is regularly checked for fleas, as they may be carrying this disease which can lead to further medical complications for both you and your cat.
Flea allergy dermatitis
As the name suggests, flea allergy dermatitis is a skin allergy caused by the saliva of fleas. Commonly seen in dogs and cats, the symptoms of this include papulocrustous lesions, broken off hair, alopecia, hyperpigmented skin, and scaling.
Flea allergy dermatitis occurs when the pet’s skin reacts exaggeratedly to the enzymes present in the saliva of the flea that is biting it. This allergy can lead to extreme discomfort in the pet, which can lead to self-trauma and severe scratching that can damage the skin.
It is important to seek medical help as soon as any of the symptoms are noticed. Make sure that your pets are free from fleas, as the little bloodsuckers can cause far more problems than just simple itching.
If you have fleas in or around your home, it’s best you take action as soon as possible. Fleas not only cause discomfort and stress, as you can see fleas carry a lot of diseases as well. If you think you have any of these diseases, seek medical attention right away. It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to flea diseases.***
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