Do Fleas Pose Any Health Threat?

black and white drawing of a flea

Americans love pets. Whether it’s the unconditional love of man’s best friend (dogs) or the sometimes surly companionship of cats, nearly 80 million Americans own at least one of these four-legged creatures. They can provide affection, entertainment and happiness to our families, but they can also provide those miniature terrors known as fleas.

If you have a pet that spends some of its time outdoors, or you’ve taken in a stray or pet from a shelter, there’s a chance it’s picked up some fleas along the way. Soon, those fleas will start to jump from their carrier to your possessions around the home, and you can have a full-blown flea infestation on your hands.

More of a nuisance than anything else

The good news is, fleas in the United States pose little serious health risk to humans. However, they can definitely be very annoying and make your life pretty uncomfortable. If you’ve ever had a flea bite, you know they cause a reaction similar to mosquito bites: the area around the bite will be red and itchy, and normally go away by itself in a few days (as long as you resist the urge to scratch constantly).

However, some people are allergic to flea bites. Again, this doesn’t mean you’ll have a dangerous response to fleas, but you may break out in hives or experience swelling in your mouth, lips, face or hands. Like any adverse allergic reaction, it’s possible to experience trouble breathing, but simple over-the-counter remedies such as Benadryl can ease your symptoms.

Additionally, flea bites in other parts of the world pose a much more serious health risk to humans. Rat fleas in South America, Asia and Africa have been known to transmit plague to people.

What about your furry friends?

But just because you’ll only experience some irritation doesn’t mean fleas aren’t harmful to pets. There are multiple diseases and conditions that fleas can transmit to your dogs or cats, such as tapeworm. If you suspect a flea infestation in your home, you should treat your pets for fleas immediately and be on the lookout for signs of fleas around the house (especially on carpets, drapes or furniture).

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