The human body is like a map of highways and byways, transporting nutrients much like grocery trucks transport food from farms to outlets. These highways in the body are the blood vessels, and many of these are easily accessible from the surface of the skin. Certain insects take advantage of this easy access in a process called hematophagy, whereby they penetrate the skin and feed from the rich supply of nutrients in the blood. Fleas are a common member of this group of insects. Many homes are vulnerable to flea infestations. Proper methods of flea control can limit and eventually eradicate such infestations.
Not All Fleas Are Equal
Many pet owners are concerned when their animals begin to scratch furiously. They not only worry about the comfort of their pets, they are concerned that they may catch the fleas themselves, and end up joining their animals in a scratching frenzy. Some sympathetic owners actually begin to get itchy. However, fleas are not the same for humans as for pets. They are not even the same among different types of pets. Here are some of the most common species and their hosts:
• Human flea (Pulex irritans)
• Dog flea (Ctenocephalides canis)
• Cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis)
• Oriental rat flea (Xenopsylla cheopis)
• Northern rat flea (Nosopsyllus fasciatus)
• Moorhen flea (Dasypsyllus gallinulae)
This means that pet owners will not be sharing fleas with their cats and dogs. Some homeowners may breathe a sigh of relief, thinking, “Well, thank heaven I don’t keep any moorhens, whatever those are!” Of course, most people do not keep rats either. However, the dangers of secondary transmission can be even more of a problem. Fleas bite rats and rats bite humans — serious diseases can be transmitted in the process. For both comfort and health reasons, controlling fleas in the home is important.
The Vacuum May Be Your Best Friend
On the game show “Hollywood Squares”, comedian Paul Lynde was asked, “What do you do if your child screams every time you turn on the vacuum?” He immediately answered, “Let him out of the bag.” Fleas may join the child in dismay at this useful appliance. Regular thorough vacuuming, particularly in areas where the pets spend the majority of their time, can kill around 96% of adult fleas and nearly 100% of young fleas.
Environmental changes can be effective as well. The optimum conditions for flea infestations are surprisingly limited. Eggs need a relative humidity of at least 70% to hatch, and larvae require at least 50% humidity to continue living. For these reasons, only 5-20% of flea eggs mature to adulthood. Environmental changes can reduce this amount further. Homeowners are able to use air conditioner or dehumidifiers to interrupt the flea life cycle.
Leave It to the Experts
Professionals use a flea control process called Integrated Pest Management (IPM). IPM targets fleas at two points in their life cycle: the developmental stages including eggs and larvae, and the adult stage. Each of these two stages requires specific chemical inhibitors. The appropriate protocols must be administered carefully, as treatments for dogs or cats may be unhealthy for humans, and vice-versa. The importance of professional help is the ability of the professionals to eradicate, rather than simply control, flea infestations. When homeowners struggle to combat flea problems with off-the-shelf products, they often turn to the experts in pest control for a more permanent, effective solution.