Adult Fleas live exclusively as parasites of warm-blooded animals, especially mammals, although birds may also be attacked. Whilst they show a certain degree of host preference, fleas are by no means specific and will feed on other animals in the absence of the normal host. In fact they tend to be more nest than host-specific, for whilst the adults may feed on the blood of a variety of animals the larvae require more precise conditions which are associated with the habitats and nesting habits of the hosts rather than the characteristics of their blood.
Cat fleas are responsible for many flea infestations, the remainder being attributable to a variety of bird and animal species. Wall-to-wall carpeting also provides a relatively undisturbed environment for flea larvae to develop, whilst the spread of central heating has served to ensure ideal temperature conditions.
Fleas can be carriers of disease or may transmit parasitic worms. The most serious infection which they can spread is bubonic plague, transmitted to man by rodent fleas (Xenopsylla cheopis) which carry the causative bacillus from infected rats. In the past rodent fleas have been responsible for serious epidemics of the disease, notably the Black Death in Europe and Asia in the 14th to 17th centuries. Rodent fleas may also carry murine typhus and, because of their readiness to attack humans as well as rats, are probably the major flea carrier of disease. The dog flea is an intermediate host of the dog tapeworm , whose vertebrate host is usually the dog (occasionally the cat) but which can sometimes be transmitted to man.
Flea bites are identified as a tiny dark red spot surrounded by a reddened area. The bite persists for one or two days and is intensely irritating. First bites are not generally liable to cause serious reactions, but they may lead to hypersensitivity. Reactions are usually delayed following regular biting over a long period; there will then follow a period when reactions are immediate.
TREATMENT & CONTROL
Selecting flea control measures depends to a large extent on the size of the problem. In many instances infestations of well kept houses can be easily traced to pets. Where this is not the case it is useful to establish the pest species. This will help to identify possible hosts and even the focus of the infestations. Control measures must be directed at the brood as well as the adult fleas.
Insecticides can be used to treat infested premises and protect them from reinfestation. In addition, hosts can be treated directly, or rodenticides employed.
Where rats and mice have been identified as the primary hosts in flea infestations, rodenticides can be used to control them and, indirectly, the fleas.
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