Flea Bites On Humans

If you have fleas in your home, it’s most likely that your pets brought them in from outside.

Fleaborne Diseases of the United States

In the United States, some fleas carry pathogens that can cause human disease, including:

  • Plague — most commonly transmitted to humans in the United States by infected ground squirrel fleas, Oropsylla montana, and globally by infected Oriental rat fleas, Xenopsylla cheopis. Also, may be transmitted by improperly handling an animal infected with plague bacteria. Most U.S. cases occur in rural areas of the western United States.
  • Flea-borne (murine) typhus — transmitted to people by infected cat fleas, Ctenocephalides felis, infected Oriental rat fleas, Xenospylla cheopis, or their feces (poop; also called “flea dirt”). Most cases in the United States are reported from California, Texas, and Hawaii.
  • Cat scratch disease (CSD) — transmitted to humans most often after a scratch from a domestic or feral cat that has been infected by a Ctenocephalides felis flea, or through flea feces (poop; also called “flea dirt”) being inoculated through a cat scratch. CSD occurs wherever cats and fleas are found.
  • Fleaborne parasites, such as tapeworms can spread to people and animals if they accidentally swallow an infected flea. Small children are at a higher risk than adults, as they may spend more time close to the floor and carpeted areas where fleas are found. Most infected people will not show symptoms and will not know they are carrying tapeworms.

Page last reviewed: August 13, 2020
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Flea Bites

Flea bites are small, discolored bumps on your skin that come from fleas feeding on your blood. Fleas are small insects known as vectors (living things that carry diseases between animals and humans). Vectors often carry infections through blood.

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Overview

Flea bites on a person’s ankle look like small, red bumps.

What are flea bites?

Flea bites are small, discolored bumps on your skin that come from a flea feeding on your blood.

Fleas are tiny, wingless insects. They are dark brown or black and have flat bodies. They have six legs, strong claws on the bottoms of their legs that allow them to hold onto a host and mouthparts that pierce your skin and feed on your blood. Their hind legs are longer and stronger than their legs in the middle and the front, allowing them to jump over 12 inches.

There are more than 2,500 flea species in the world and more than 300 species in the United States.

Flea bites rarely cause any lasting harm. They cause mild annoyance and irritation for a short period. However, flea bites can be dangerous because they may spread diseases that can be serious or even fatal.

Where are fleas found?

Fleas are most active when the weather is warm. Outside, fleas prefer cool, damp areas with a lot of shade. They live around trees, leaves, tall grass and shrubs. Fleas hop onto animals when they walk by these areas.

On dogs, cats and other animals, fleas live around the ears, neck, back and belly (abdomen). Once inside your home, fleas may jump off an infested animal and hide. They often hide in carpet, furniture, bedding and cracks in the floor.

Why do fleas bite?

Male and female fleas feed on blood. Female fleas lay eggs after feeding on blood. In some flea species, especially the species that commonly bother dogs and cats, baby fleas (larvae) feed on blood-rich adult flea poop (feces). Flea poop is also called flea dirt.

Do fleas bite humans?

Fleas bite humans. However, the flea species that commonly bother dogs and cats don’t live on humans. Dogs and cats have much more hair than humans. Fleas like animals with a lot of fur because fur allows them to hide easily.

What happens when a flea bites you?

Fleas have strong claws on the ends of their legs that they use to hold onto a host. Their mouthparts include a tiny needle (proboscis) that pierces your skin, sucks your blood and secretes saliva into your bloodstream.

Why do flea bites itch?

When a flea secretes saliva into your bloodstream, your body registers the saliva as an allergen. Your immune system then sends the chemical histamine to the area where the flea bit you to remove the allergen from your body. Histamine is what causes your flea bites to itch and swell. Most people have a flea bite allergy.

Who is at risk of being bitten by a flea?

Fleas prefer to bite animals. If there isn’t an animal in the area, fleas will bite anyone. The following factors attract fleas:

  • Body heat.
  • Breathing (carbon dioxide or CO2).
  • Movement.
  • Vibrations.

Symptoms and Causes

What do flea bites look like on humans?

After a flea bites you, a small, discolored bump forms. A discolored ring or halo may appear around the bite. Flea bites may appear in a straight line or a cluster of many bites.

Flea bites most commonly occur on your legs, especially your feet, calves and ankles. Flea bites rarely appear above your knee, unless you spend a lot of time sitting or lying down.

What causes a flea bite?

Male and female fleas bite. They feed on your blood as part of their diet. Female fleas lay eggs after feeding on blood. In some flea species, flea babies feed on adult flea poop, which contains blood.

What are the symptoms of a flea bite?

The symptoms of a flea bite vary. If the flea has a disease or an allergic reaction occurs, the symptoms may be more severe.

Common symptoms include:

  • Itchy and irritated skin.
  • A discolored ring around the bite.

More severe symptoms can include:

  • An allergic reaction (hives, rash, shortness of breath and swelling).
  • Infection of a disease carried by a flea (fever, headache, body aches, rashes, nausea, abdominal pain, weight loss, dizziness and weakness can accompany various diseases).

Diagnosis and Tests

How can you tell if it’s a flea bite?

Flea bites are slightly more unique than other common insect bites. After a flea bites you, a small, discolored bump typically forms. A discolored ring may form around the bite. Flea bites don’t swell to the size of mosquito bites.

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Flea bites are also unique because of their bite pattern and location. Flea bites often appear in a straight line or a cluster. Fleas are more likely to bite you on your legs, especially your feet, calves and ankles.

It’s important to examine your pets. If your pets are scratching more than normal and restless, it’s a good idea to check them for fleas. If your pet has fleas and you have bites on your legs, you likely have flea bites.

Management and Treatment

How are flea bites treated?

Flea bites typically don’t need treatment. Over-the-counter anti-itch creams or ointments and antihistamines can relieve itchy skin and discomfort. However, see your healthcare provider if more severe symptoms develop after a bite (allergic reaction, fever, headache or body aches).

How do I stop flea bites from itching?

Don’t scratch your flea bites. You risk breaking your skin and exposing yourself to infection. If you accidentally break your skin, keep the area clean by washing it with soap and water and covering your flea bites with a bandage. Talk to your healthcare provider if you have an infected flea bite.

Flea bites only last a few days. However, there are many over-the-counter products or home remedies that can stop flea bites from itching.

Home remedies are safe for most people. However, it’s a good idea to check with your healthcare provider before trying some of the following options to get rid of your flea bites. You may be at risk of developing an allergic reaction on your skin.

  • Antihistamines: Antihistamines are a popular flea bite treatment. Histamine is a chemical created by your immune system. Your body releases histamine after it encounters an allergen. Histamine is what makes flea bites itch. You can take an antihistamine as a pill, or you can apply it directly to your flea bite as a cream or ointment.
  • Hydrocortisone: Hydrocortisone is a corticosteroid combined with an anesthetic pain reliever. It relieves itching and swelling. You can apply it directly to your flea bite as a cream or ointment.
  • Ice: Ice can slow down the amount of blood that flows to an area. It reduces inflammation, pain, swelling and itchiness. Apply an ice pack covered in a light towel over the area for at least 10 minutes for flea bite relief.
  • Aloe vera: Aloe vera is a succulent plant. The gel in its leaves contains salicylic acid, which relieves itching and pain. You can apply aloe gel directly to your flea bite.
  • Chamomile tea: Chamomile tea contains dried chamomile flowers. The dried chamomile flowers contain terpenoids and flavonoids, which are natural chemicals that have antioxidant and antihistamine properties. To treat a flea bite, add a chamomile tea bag to water. Let the tea bag steep for at least 20 minutes until the water is a rich gold-brown color. Remove the tea bag from the water and squeeze the tea bag to remove excess water. Press the tea bag to your flea bites for at least 10 minutes, and then wipe your bites with a clean towel. Put the wet tea bag in a container in your refrigerator so that you can reuse it on your bites throughout the day.
  • Honey: Honey has many properties that relieve itching and pain. Honey contains an enzyme called catalase, which provides relief for minor inflammation. Put on enough unprocessed honey to lightly cover your flea bites. To avoid accidentally creating a sticky mess, you can also put a bandage on top of your honey-covered flea bites.
  • Oatmeal: Oatmeal contains properties that can soothe itchy flea bites. The best way to use oatmeal to treat your flea bites is to grind it into a fine powder (colloidal oatmeal) in a blender or food processor. Mix the oatmeal powder with warm water until it becomes a thick, sticky paste. Apply enough of the oatmeal paste to completely cover your flea bites. After at least 10 minutes, wipe off the paste with a clean towel.

Prevention

How do I stop getting bitten by fleas?

To stop flea bites, you must get rid of the fleas. Fleas are more likely to bite your pet. Check your pet for fleas around their ears, neck, back, and belly. Part your pet’s fur and look around its skin. If you find fleas, here are some removal options:

  • Flea comb: The tines on a flea comb are very close together. When you brush your pet’s fur, fleas get stuck in the tines. If you see fleas in the comb, dunk the comb in a bowl of soapy water.
  • Flea shampoo: Soak your pet in warm water and thoroughly apply a flea shampoo. Avoid getting shampoo in your pet’s eyes and mouth.
  • Medicine: Give your pet over-the-counter or prescription flea medicines. Some medicines are oral (taken by mouth). Other medicines are topical (put on the skin).
  • Wash the bedding: Wash your pet’s bedding in hot water every few days. Wash your bedding in hot water, too, especially if your pet sleeps with you. Dry the bedding on the highest heat setting.
  • Vacuum: Use a strong vacuum to thoroughly clean your carpets, rugs and fabric furniture. When you finish, immediately empty the vacuum’s contents into a bag, seal it and throw it away outside.

Bed bug bites vs. flea bites

Like fleas, bed bugs feed off your blood and secrete saliva into your bloodstream. Bed bug bites look similar to flea bites. However, bed bug bites often exhibit a distinct line or zigzag pattern. Bed bugs are active at night, and they’ll bite your exposed skin while you’re sleeping, including your face, hands, arms, feet and legs.

Flea bites vs. mosquito bites

Mosquitos are small, flying insects. They also feed off your blood and secrete saliva into your bloodstream. Mosquito bites look a little different than flea bites. After a mosquito bites you, a small, raised bump forms. The raised bump may change colors, and you can sometimes see a small, dark spot in the center. The dark spot is where the bite occurred.

Living With

How do fleas spread disease?

Fleas spread disease through their bites. Fleas are vectors (living things that carry diseases between animals and humans). Vectors often carry infections through blood. Many of the creatures classified as vectors are bloodsuckers. Other vectors include ticks, mosquitoes and sandflies.

In rare cases, fleas can spread tapeworms and other parasites to animals and people. Parasites can spread if a person or animal were to swallow an infected flea accidentally. In houses with a flea infestation, young children are more likely to get a parasite than adults. Young children spend more time on the floor, and fleas like to hide in carpets and cracks.

What types of diseases can be spread by flea bites?

Fleas sometimes carry diseases that can infect humans. Some of those diseases include:

Plague

Plague most commonly affects small rodents in Africa, Asia, North America and South America. Most human cases of plague in the United States occur in the western part of the country, especially in rural New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, California, Oregon and Nevada. Infected fleas can transmit plague to humans. Humans can also get plague after handling an infected animal. Symptoms of plague include:

  • Flu-like symptoms like fever, aches and chills.
  • Low blood pressure.
  • Bleeding under the skin or other organs.
  • Weakness.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Pain in the chest and/or abdomen.
  • Nausea and/or vomiting.

Endemic murine typhus

Endemic murine typhus commonly occurs in warm coastal areas in tropical and subtropical regions. Most cases in the United States occur in southern California and Texas. Infected fleas transmit endemic murine typhus to humans through flea poop. Infected flea poop enters your body through broken skin — typically from scratching a flea bite — or by inhaling it through your mouth or nose. Symptoms of endemic murine typhus include:

  • General discomfort.
  • Headache.
  • Pain in your muscles and/or joints.
  • Nausea and/or vomiting.
  • Fever and/or chills.
  • Rash.
  • Cough.

Cat Scratch Disease (CSD)

CSD commonly occurs throughout the world. In moderate climates, more cases occur during the fall and winter seasons. In tropical climates, cases occur throughout the year. Fleas pass on the bacteria _Bartonella _to cats. Fleas can sometimes pass the bacteria to dogs or other animals. Infected cats also pass the bacteria during fights with other cats. Cats — especially kittens — pass the infection to humans through a bite or scratch. Symptoms of CSD include:

  • A small, discolored blister or pimple near the scratch or bite.
  • Swollen, painful lymph nodes.
  • General discomfort.
  • Fever.
  • Night sweats.
  • Weight loss.

Parasites

Tapeworm larvae and the larvae of other parasites sometimes infect fleas. Infected fleas can spread parasites to animals and humans. Animals and humans must swallow an infected flea to acquire a parasite. Animals may swallow an infected flea while grooming. Humans rarely acquire parasites from infected fleas. Most cases involve children, who spend more time on the ground around places where fleas hide. Symptoms of parasites include:

  • Nausea.
  • Weakness.
  • Weight loss.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Dizziness.
  • Headache.

When should I see a healthcare provider?

You should see a healthcare provider if you experience an allergic reaction to flea bites or develop symptoms of a disease or parasite carried by fleas.

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A note from Cleveland Clinic

Flea bites are an itchy, annoying problem for you and your pets. In most cases, flea bites are ultimately harmless. But you shouldn’t scratch your flea bites. You can relieve your itch with many over-the-counter or home remedies. Contact your healthcare provider if your bite symptoms last longer than a few days or if you develop an allergic reaction or other symptoms.

Flea Bites on Humans – Pictures, Treatment and Prevention

Flea bites on skin

Welcome to FLEABITES.NET where you’ll learn everything you need to know about fleas. If you need help figuring out if you were bitten or not and how to treat your bites, you can start by reading about flea bites on humans. You can also see what the bites may look like in the flea bite pictures section.

During your visit, you’ll learn how to effectively accomplish this:

  1. Identify if you have been bitten by fleas
  2. Treat flea bites on humans, dogs and cats
  3. Get rid of fleas in and outside your home
  4. Prevent flea infestations in the future

Now you can also learn how to get rid of fleas while supporting a great cause (World Wildlife Fund).

Flea bites on humans

Let me start by saying that we don’t see fleas on humans as often as on cats or dogs. Flea bites on humans usually come from dog fleas, cat fleas or human fleas. The bites are often seen in large groups or in clusters. Some people are very sensitive to these bites, and they risk getting a kind of hives, that looks like a large number of red bumps or bubbles on the affected area.

Flea bites on human body

Fleas from cats and dogs often bite below the knee, usually on the ankles. You can also get flea bites on the forearms, if you have stroked or held your pet. In fact it is only the human flea that comes in groups of two to three, or even more at a time. Bites from dog or cat fleas usually show as areas of red dots.

There are a few people, that develop severe allergic reactions to flea bites and can get irritated by a single bite. Although it happens rarely, you can also get nasty diseases from the bacteria and viruses, that fleas transmit.

Not sure if you have flea bites? Take this test and find out now.

Flea bites on your pets

Flea bites on pet

No matter if you have a dog, cat, rabbit or another animal, it is most likely that your pet gets cat fleas. Flea species prefers specific hosts, although if there is someone nearby, they can easily live on other animals or humans. Often it is not even sure you notice if your dog or cat gets flea bites. But if fleas are allowed to spread, they may end up invading your home.

Some pets, like dogs, can be sensitive to certain substances in flea saliva. More than humans are. They may develop allergic reactions after just one bite.

When fleas bite and why they do it

Evolution has shown that fleas have evolved to store 15 times more blood than their own weight. They have a lot of short spikes on their legs, allowing them to stick very firmly to their host. Once they have penetrated the animals or humans skin, they inject the saliva. The saliva is known to have more than 15 different substances, that may cause severe allergic reactions. Especially dogs are at risk of developing flea allergy.

I should also mention that fleas bite some people more than others. Like many other biting insects, fleas find their hosts based on the chemical cues we release, also known as volatile organic compound (VOC). Your VOC profile is a product of your skin flora and your odor consists of around 400 compounds, making it unique. So when fleas choose to bite you and not your friends, family members or colleagues, it’s because the fleas odorant receptors detect the VOCs that are unique to you.

Thoughts, like fleas, jump from man to man, but they don’t bite everybody – Stanislaw Lec

All fleas are parasites that need to suck the blood of animals or humans to live. The adult female fleas also need blood to be able to reproduce. In fact, they need food two to three times every day. They only need to mate once in a lifetime though, to be able to reproduce. So fleas don’t just bite because they can, they bite because they need the blood to survive.

What are the symptoms?

Woman scratching her arm

Flea bite symptoms can vary from person to person, but these are common signs:

  • Raised spots on the skin that are red and itchy
  • The bites are typically seen on lower body parts like feet and legs
  • Some people are immune to the bites and may not show any symptoms
  • Scratching the bites can cause blisters, welts and serious skin infections

You should have your doctor look at it if you get blisters, pus filled boils and fever.

Are fleas dangerous to humans or pets?

Insect bites are annoying and potential threats to both humans and animals. Fortunately, flea bites on humans and pets are not as dangerous as many other insect bites. Although you don’t need to contact your doctor as soon as it starts itching all over the body, you must still be aware of allergic reactions and rashes.

Fleas can be carriers of many different types of bacteria and viral diseases, and they are known to transmit tapeworms. Even if the fleas are disease-free, they can still drive both animals and humans mad when they come in big groups, and they are not easy to get rid of. Stick around and I’ll show you how to get rid of them.

What do flea bites look like?

Close up of flea bite

If they are not causing an allergic reaction, the bites look just like red small dots, which you might not even notice. But when the bites start to itch, the person or pet may scratch a hole in the affected area, which can cause skin infections. If you get an allergic reaction to the bite, you usually have large areas of redness, severe itching and small pimples that require treatment.

Visit the flea bite pictures section to see what the bites look like.

Flea bite treatment

If you get bitten and you don’t do anything about it, the bites will eventually get worse because you simply can’t stop scratching them. This can be very uncomfortable and cause a lot of frustration, especially if you have flea allergy. Luckily we know so much about fleas today that we have developed excellent treatments and medicines that can take care of the problem almost instantly.

You can cure yourself at home by following the instructions below. If one way doesn’t work for you, just try another. People react differently to flea bites, so the effect of the specific treatment may also vary from person to person.

How to get rid of flea bites

  1. First of all, stop scratching your bites! I know it’s difficult but if you continue doing so, the bites can get infected with bacteria that will enter your bloodstream and cause havoc on your body. Save yourself from nasty infections by leaving the area alone.
  2. This one makes the first point easier to follow. Stop the itching with some cream or lotion. This will also reduce swelling and clean the area, decreasing the chance of getting those unwanted infections.
  3. If cream or lotion doesn’t do it for you, there’s also antihistamine as tablets or liquid. You should contact your doctor before taking this. I would prefer that you use cream or lotion – it’s cheaper and works in most cases.
  4. Use ice or cold water to soothe the itching. This also prevents or reduces swelling and inflammation.

Woman ready to get rid of fleas in her home

If you have fleas in your home, it’s most likely that your pets brought them in from outside.

Follow these steps to get rid of fleas in your home:

  1. Vacuum carpets and rugs thoroughly and wash your pets bedding in hot water. Discard the bedding if you have a serious infestation.
  2. Remove items from the floor (feeding bowls, children’s toys etc.), pull furniture away from the walls and cover exposed surfaces.
  3. Strip the beds of sheets etc. and wash that along with comforters and curtains on as high a temperature as the fabric allows.
  4. Put on protective gear and apply EPA and FDA approved flea treatment products on floors and rugs. Always read the instructions first.
  5. Let the insecticides work for the amount of time described on the label and vacuum your home thoroughly afterwards.
  6. Repeat the process after two weeks.

Treat your pets for fleas

Pet dog looking into camera

As I mentioned before, your pets are probably bringing in the fleas, so you have to treat them too.

Follow these steps to treat your pets for fleas:

  1. Start by bathing your pets with flea shampoo. This is an excellent way to quickly get rid of fleas on heavily infested pets.
  2. Maintain ongoing flea control by using a flea collar, pills or topical flea drops (I prefer the last one).
  3. Some people also bathe their pets once or twice a month and add a little vinegar as a repellent for extra protection.
  4. Keep your pets on a healthy diet, rich in biotin, omega essential fatty acids and B-vitamins.
  5. Groom your pets regularly using a flea comb. This is great for discovering and removing fleas in the early stages.
  6. When walking your pets, avoid grassy trails where fleas reside. This includes long grass in your yard.

Here are some natural ways to get rid of fleas on your dog.

Eliminate fleas in the yard

Mowing grass in the yard

Your yard is one of the common places where your pets pick up fleas due to wild animals.

Follow these steps to eliminate fleas in the yard:

  1. Mow your lawn regularly and keep the grass short. You can also trim bushes and rake leaves to make it uninhabitable for fleas.
  2. Treat your yard by spraying your lawn with EPA-FDA approved insecticides or use beneficial nematodes that devour fleas.
  3. Declutter your yard by removing any unwanted items that may create hiding places for wild animals like rodents or possums.

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Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for his studies of ageing, genetics and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics NAS of Ukraine. His scientific researches are printed by the most reputable international magazines. Some of his works are: Differences in the gut Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio across age groups in healthy Ukrainian population [BiomedCentral.com]; Mating status affects Drosophila lifespan, metabolism and antioxidant system [Science Direct]; Anise Hyssop Agastache foeniculum Increases Lifespan, Stress Resistance, and Metabolism by Affecting Free Radical Processes in Drosophila [Frontiersin].
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