Did you know that late summer to early fall is flea season in GA?
These tiny blood feeders suck blood from mammals using tiny, straw-like mouth parts. Neither you nor your fur babies are safe from the bite of this pesky little creature. If you have ever had the misfortune of being bitten by a flea, then you can appreciate the importance of good flea control.
We are right in the middle of flea season outside. Fleas live, feed, and breed outside July through late October. If they find their way indoors on one of your beloved pets, they can start an infestation that will last year-round. Adult fleas spend almost the entirety of their life on their host. If your pets are not kept on flea and tick medication, fleas can easily make your pet that host. Not only do they feed, breed, and live on their host once they find it, they also defecate (poop) and lay their eggs on their host, too. When the host the fleas are living on stands up, moves, shakes, or scratches, the eggs and dried blood (aka flea dirt–aka flea poop) fall off into bedding, carpet, upholstery, etc. This is where the rest of the flea life cycle takes place.
Juvenile fleas (larval fleas) spend their entire life in whatever bedding or substrate they hatch on. They crawl around through the fibers or the soil and feed on the flea dirt of their parents. After growing several times, the larvae enter the next stage of their life: the pupal stage (a resting stage to undergo the drastic change from larva to adult). During the pupal stage, the fleas are almost impossible to control. Most of the products on the market cannot penetrate the hard casing of pupal fleas. This is why hiring a professional is vital to the eradication of these irritating critters. Professionals have been taught how and when to treat and exactly what steps need to be taken to control flea populations in the home. On the same token, this is why it is important to perform all of the steps asked of you by your pest control professional. Failure to follow their directions may make the problem worse…or fail to control it at all!
Besides their nasty, itchy bite, what is the big deal about fleas? Well, certain species carry and transmit the plague [also referred to as black death (black plague)]. If you aren’t familiar with the plague, let me provide a short, but informative, history lesson. The plague was a serious issue in Europe back in the mid-1300s when sanitation was way worse than it is now. Rats roamed the streets and carried fleas around with them. When these fleas would transfer from feeding on infected rodents to feeding on people, they would transfer the virus Yersinia pestis [aka the causative virus of the plague (of which there are three types: pneumonic, septicemic, and bubonic)]. This disease was so bad that it wiped out around 60% of Europe’s population in the 1300s (somewhere in the millions, if not hundreds of millions). So, we see how it got the ‘death’ part of its name, but where does the word black come from? That is a result of one of the lovely side effects of the septicemic version of the plague. In addition to a handful of other problems, it also causes the skin to start turning black, usually starting in the lymph nodes, because of gangrene. The pneumonic version is the most dangerous as it can be spread from person to person thru infected fluids, and the bubonic version forms giant lumps/nodules (buboes) in the lymph nodes closest to the bite site. While the plague may not be as big of an issue in the Eastern United Sates, the western hemisphere of the U.S. is still at risk. Fleas living on the prairie dog populations out west have continued to transmit the plague to humans; the CDC states that there are an average of 7 new cases a year.
In addition to the plague, fleas also transmit tapeworms to dogs and cats. The tapeworm that dogs and cats get from fleas is the flea (or cucumber) tapeworm (Dipylidium caninum). Infection happens when a dog or cat is chewing at the fleas on its skin and swallows a flea that contains a tapeworm larva. When the stomach acids break down the flea, the tapeworm emerges and begins its life cycle. As it matures into its adult form, the tape worm grows larger and develops numerous segments, called proglottids. Each one of the proglottids can break off and be expelled from the animal’s body as it defecates. If you see a proglottid in your pet’s excrement, take them to the vet immediately to be dewormed; be sure to keep pets on flea medication, because each of the proglottids contain eggs that can re-infest flea larvae, starting the cycle all over again when the larvae become adults. The only risk a flea would pose to a human is if the human were to accidentally swallow a flea infected with tapeworms. While it is not impossible, the chance that this would happen is astronomical!
If you want to avoid ever being put in these situations in the first place, flea and tick medication is an absolute must for your pets! Just a reminder that cats need flea and tick medication as well. If a cat contracts the plague, it can transfer the plague to a human when the cat coughs or sneezes. In addition, pest control providers can service your yard for fleas or come indoors to control flea infestations that have found their way inside. Keeping wild animals out of your yard is a good way to keep fleas from being present in the first place. Remove piles of wood, rubbish, or other debris that wild animals may use as shelter. Putting a fence around your yard can also help, but that can be a rather expensive solution. Keeping grass at a reasonable height (ankle height) is also a great way to keep your home flea free!
For more information on flea tapeworms, please check out the following link: https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/dipylidium/faqs.html
For more information on the plague, please visit:
If you are a bug nerd like me and want more information about fleas, check out this informative page from Ohio State University:
Author: G. Wyatt West –A University of Georgia Graduate of Entomology
Fall Is Flea Season in Georgia
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