Whilst there are over 2,000 species of flea they all share common characteristics. They are about the size of a pin head, laterally compressed wingless insects which are light brown to black in colour. Their bites leave a tiny dark red spot surrounded by a reddened area.
They are difficult to see however their distinctive jump (fleas have the second longest jump in relation to their size) can be felt on the host, albeit after they have jumped away.
The first sign that your pet may be infested will be excessive scratching due to the skin irritation the flea bites cause. There will also likely be dark red flea droppings on your pet.
You do not need to keep pets in order to get a flea infestation. They may have hitched a ride from another location or if you have moved into a new property flea eggs may have lain dormant for up to 9 months before sensing the presence of a meal and becoming active.
The most common effect of fleas is the skin irritation their bites cause, which in some cases can cause an allergic reaction leading to a rash. Fleas however can act as a vector for a number of diseases. Most famously they helped spread the bubonic plague whilst been transported by rats, however the risk of catching a serious disease from a flea in the UK is low. Research has shown that blood related viruses such as HIV cannot be transmitted from a flea bite.
Fleas are parasites which live on the host specific to their species however most of the fleas will be present in the area where their host is most active. Dog and cat fleas are the most common flea and whilst preferring to live on dogs and cats they will relocate to people if necessary as a temporary host. Fleas will only survive for a few days if they do not get a blood meal however their eggs can remain for months before hatching and re-infesting a host.
How do I treat fleas?
Treatment should be given to all hosts and potential hosts in a property as well as to the property itself. All areas should be treated the same day to avoid re-infestation from untreated areas.
Prior to treatment all floors and upholstered furniture should be vacuumed and the dust bag disposed of in an outside bin to prevent re-infestation. Ensure that, bedding, furniture and areas beneath furniture are not missed out.
A vets practice should be able to offer good advice on how to treat a flea infestation, as well as provide suitable treatments, even if you don’t have a pet. Whilst there are cheap supermarket flea sprays/treatments available you may find them ineffective and therefore a waste of money. The most effective DIY flea treatments such as Indorex flea spay are available from Vet Practices. Always follow the label instructions on the pesticides you use including how to dispose of them appropriately. With flea sprays or flea bombs you will need to remove any fish or plants from the area whilst spraying and ensure food is covered.
Allow two weeks after a treatment for the pesticide used to take effect before re-vacuuming an area, and repeating treatment if needed. Flea eggs are resistant to pesticides therefore the aim is to ensure that there is a residual of pesticide on carpet surfaces etc so that newly emerging fleas are exposed and killed. Repeated vacuuming then treating may therefore be required every couple of weeks for a number of months.
A flea infestation can be difficult to treat therefore if an infestation persists it is recommended that you employ a professional pest contractor who is a member of the British Pest Control Association.
How can the Council help?
Whilst Gravesham Borough Council does not offer treatments for fleas the council does offer a referral service to a local pest contractor who can provide treatments at a reduced cost. If you wish to be referred to Monitor Pest Control to discuss the service they can offer please contact the council on 01474 33 7000 and select option 6.
If you do not wish to use the council’s referral service but wish to employ your own pest contractor then it is recommended that you use a member of the British Pest Control Association. Visit BPCA for a list of local pest contractors.