Sand Flea Bites Pictures

Chigoe fleas are known by quite a few different names: jiggers, niguas, chicas, picos, piques, or suthis. The CDC says adult female fleas pose the most risk to humans. While both adult male and female fleas feed on warm-blooded hosts, like humans, the adult mated females actually burrow into the skin of humans (more on that later).

How To Treat and Prevent Sand Flea Bites

Maggie O’Neill is a health writer and reporter based in New York who specializes in covering medical research and emerging wellness trends, with a focus on cancer and addiction. Prior to her time at Health, her work appeared in the Observer, Good Housekeeping, CNN, and Vice. She was a fellow of the Association of Health Care Journalists’ 2020 class on Women’s Health Journalism and 2021 class on Cancer Reporting. In her spare time, she likes meditating, watching TikToks, and playing fetch with her dog, Finnegan.

Published on August 25, 2020

When people talk about sand fleas, they may be talking about different organisms: Sand flies, which live in and around aquatic habitats; and sand or mole crabs, which are actually crustaceans that live on the beach and don’t bite humans. Really, “any flea that comes out of a sandy area, people call a sand flea,” Nancy Hinkle, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Georgia’s Department of Entomology, told Health.

But true sand fleas are technically known as chigoe fleas, or Tunga penetrans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—and they’re actually quite detrimental to human health, but not necessarily from a bite. Luckily, these sand fleas are extremely rare in the US, but that doesn’t mean you’ll never come across them, especially if you travel outside the country at some point.

If you’re bitten by one of those creatures, you might notice sand flea bites—which look like a cluster of small red bumps—on your skin.

To help you with everything you need to know about sand fleas, Health spoke to Hinkle, an entomologist (aka, a bug expert). Here’s what to understand about sand fleas, sand flea bites, and what other damage these parasites can cause.

Foot with visible bites of the chigoe flea (or jigger) in the Sahara desert

What Are Sand Fleas (AKA, Chigoe Fleas), and Where Do They Live?

Chigoe fleas are known by quite a few different names: jiggers, niguas, chicas, picos, piques, or suthis. The CDC says adult female fleas pose the most risk to humans. While both adult male and female fleas feed on warm-blooded hosts, like humans, the adult mated females actually burrow into the skin of humans (more on that later).

These sand fleas are mainly found on Caribbean beaches, as well as beaches in South America, Hinkle says. The fleas originally came from Africa, and Hinkle says sand fleas are common on African beaches as well. The CDC adds that the fleas normally occur in sandy climates, including beaches, stables, and farms.

Just because we don’t currently see Tunga penetrans in the US doesn’t mean we couldn’t: If you were to travel to a beach in the Caribbean, for instance, and come into contact with the fleas, you could potentially pick them up there. And then, if you walked around a beach in the US after coming into contact with sand fleas, you could introduce them to the area. “That is a risk—[if] you have been walking along a Florida beach, you could start an infestation of chigoe fleas in Florida,” Hinkle says.

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What Do Sand Flea Bites Look and Feel Like?

Sand flea bites appear as clusters of small red bumps on your skin. Per the CDC, the initial symptoms of a sand flea bite infection usually start to develop only after the females are in their engorged state.

So, here’s where things get interesting. Sand fleas reproduce with the help of humans. Female sand fleas burrow into the skin (usually the feet), and male sand fleas briefly meet them there to mate, Hinkle says. This is technically called tungiasis, or an infestation by the Tunga penetrans. The female’s head will be burrowed into the skin, but her rear end isn’t, which allows her to expel eggs to the ground after mating. The female dies after expelling eggs—about 100 or so over a two-week period, per the CDC—and then will fall out of the foot to the ground.

Usually, people don’t notice sand flea bites as they’re happening. The fleas are small, and they usually attach themselves to the ankles or feet, meaning you might not even notice when they first make contact with the body.

“That’s the risk there: You have this lovely vacation, you get back on the plane—a couple of days later you notice irritation on your big toe, [and] it’s hurting to walk around,” Hinkle says. This inflammation and ulceration may become severe, the CDC says, and multiple lesions can cause difficulty walking.

But the bite itself—and even strictly the burrowing—isn’t necessarily the problem, it’s the aftermath. The opening created when the female burrows into the skin can put you at risk of contracting infections. The female sand flea “creates this opening that allows bacterial infection.” This can lead to a tetanus diagnosis or one of gangrene, Hinkle says.

How To Treat and Prevent Sand Flea Bites

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), treatment should include a sterile surgical removal of the sand fleas followed by appropriate wound dressing. There should also be tetanus vaccination verification along with a booster vaccination if necessary. The WHO also says that “a two-component dimeticone with a defined viscosity” is also an effective treatment. The dimeticone is known as NYDA and contains silicone oils, according to a March 2017 article published in Tropical Medicine and Health.

The WHO reports that repellents, such as DEET-containing bug sprays, can be effective in keeping fleas away, as can coconut oil. That said, it’s important to check the label of your preferred bug spray to see how frequently you need to apply it to make sure you’re constantly protected.

Your takeaway: The next time you do find yourself planning a vacation, it can’t hurt to look ahead to see if sand fleas are problematic on the beaches you plan on visiting. That way, you can ensure you’ve taken precautions to protect yourself from the sand fleas’ bites.

Sand Flea Bites on Humans – Pictures, Treatment and Prevention

Woman with bare feet walking on sand on beach

If you think you’ve been bitten by sand fleas and want to know what sand flea bites on humans look like, this is the place. You will also learn how to treat and prevent the bites to avoid this problem in the future. People that have already experienced these bites know that they can be quite painful. If left untreated, they can cause a lot of suffering for several months to come, before they usually disappear by themselves. Sand fleas can carry diseases and transmit viruses, so you should see a doctor if you experience severe symptoms after getting bitten. This article will help cure most sand flea bites on humans.

What do sand flea bites on humans look like?

Sand Flea Bites on Foot

Even though sand fleas are quite small, they can cause severe skin problems. They typically bite the feet, ankles and legs because they are closest to the ground. Sand fleas can only jump around 20-40 cm, so there’s much less chance of getting bitten on the upper body unless you’re lying down in the sand.
When you do get bitten, it’s most likely to happen during the evening, night or at dawn. This is when the sand fleas are most active, so be on guard if you’re on the beach at this time.

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Types of sand flea bites

Sand Flea Bites on Legs

There are two types of sand flea bites on humans. The first one looks like a mosquito bite and happens when the fleas suck your blood and then moves on to another host. They inject saliva to prevent blood clotting as they are feeding, and this saliva is what irritates the skin and may cause allergic reactions. The second type is worse and is caused by breeding female sand fleas. The fleas burrow themselves into the skin and stay there until their eggs hatch. Look for swollen areas with black spots in the middle, these may be breeding sand fleas.

Flea Bites on Legs

Both bite types will cause symptoms like itching, pain and unpleasantness. If you’re allergic to sand flea bites, then more severe reactions can be expected. When the breeding fleas burrow into the skin, you may also experience fever and infections in the area and it can develop into a condition called tungiasis, which is an inflammatory skin disease that needs to be treated to prevent secondary infections. Please contact your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.

How to treat sand flea bites

If you’ve been bitten by these bloodsucking parasites, this is how you treat sand flea bites on humans:

Many bites on human leg

  • First of all don’t scratch the bites. It increases the chance of getting infections in the wound.
  • Check the bite for breeding sand fleas. They can live under your skin and suck your blood for weeks.
  • Apply calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream on the bites to control the itching, and take some painkillers to reduce the pain and swelling. You should see a doctor if this doesn’t help or if the symptoms get worse. He or she may also advise you to treat your bites with an antihistamine cream.
  • Baking soda mixed with water may give you some relief. Just put it on the affected area and let it work.
  • Make yourself an oatmeal bath and soak in it to reduce the itching. The water must not be too hot.
  • Aloe Vera is great for all kinds of wounds and it also has a soothing effect on sand flea bites.
  • Essential oils like lavender, eucalyptus, tea tree and cedar wood may also help you get rid of the discomfort.

Prevent the fleas from attacking you

I have always been a great fan of preventing flea bites rather than treating them. If you want to avoid getting bitten, just follow these tips and you will have greatly decreased the chance of that happening:

RECOMMENDED: Here are 10 effective products that can help you get rid of fleas quickly.

  • Don’t visit the beach when it has been raining. Sand fleas seem to be more aggressive when the air is cool and moist. You should stay away from the beach in the morning and in the evening for that same reason. Most people go to the beach when it’s warm and dry outside anyway, so that’s good.
  • If you do go to the beach when it’s cool outside, please remember to pack your insect repellant.
  • Cover yourself up when sitting or lying down to avoid getting bitten on your back, legs and feet.

How to remove sand fleas

If you do find a swollen area on your feet or on your pets paws with a black spot in the center, this is cause for concern. It’s possible that a female sand flea may have burrowed inside the skin and laid eggs. Seek medical attention to have it looked at and removed as soon as possible.

I hope this article was helpful to you. To learn more, you can continue reading about flea bites on humans.

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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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