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Fleas are wingless, oval shaped and around 2 to 8mm long, they are light to deep brown in colour, have six legs and have large hind legs that enable them to jump long distances. They feed on the blood of humans and animals such as dogs and cats. Fleas can transfer diseases from one host to another and commonly transmit tapeworm larvae. To encourage the flow of blood, the flea’s saliva contains anticoagulants, to stop the blood clotting. Adult fleas can survive for some months without feeding.
Fleas use their saw-like mouth parts to cut through the skin, usually on accessible parts of the body such as the legs or feet. Females lay their eggs after feeding. Flea eggs are light coloured and oval shaped and after hatching the larvae cocoon themselves. Vibrations, such as our footsteps will stimulate the adult fleas to emerge from their cocoons.
There are three main species of flea that infest humans:
• Cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis)
• Dog flea (Ctenocephalides canis)
• Human flea (Pulex irritans).
The cat and dog flea are common in Australia. A flea bite is intensely itchy and secondary
infections caused by scratching are common.
Fleas mate on their host animal and lay their eggs either onto the animal where they fall to the nest or directly in the nest. The small larvae hatch from the eggs and do not begin to feed on blood like that of their parents but consume the dead skin and other dirt and dust from the host animal. The larvae develop through 3 instars and when fully grown spin a silken cocoon and pupate in the nest of the host. The vibrations of a host often trigger the emergence of the adult flea from the pupal case, enabling it to immediately find a host and begin feeding. The life Cycle may take from several weeks to many months depending on the species.
Treating your house
• Maintain hygiene practices (regular vacuuming, keeping pets free of fleas and so on) to
prevent another infestation.
• Vacuum the carpets. Throw away the vacuum cleaner bag, since it will contain fleas and
eggs, or use a surface spray into the bag.
• Use an appropriate spray or ‘flea bomb’ in your house, taking care to follow the label
• Clean animal bedding and the general surrounds thoroughly.
• Treat outdoor areas commonly used by your pet, such as kennels, with appropriate
insecticides, wearing gloves and long-sleeved protective clothing as instructed on the label.
• Repeat the procedure once or twice, since flea eggs can survive for some weeks.
Things to remember
• Fleas are a type of wingless parasite that feeds off the blood of humans and animals such
as dogs and cats.
• A flea bite is red, swollen and intensely itchy, and secondary infections caused by
scratching are common.
• Treatment options include anaesthetic creams and icepacks to reduce the swelling.
• Persistent flea infestations may need to be treated by a qualified pest controller.