Bugs That Bite People: Fleas, Mosquitos and Ticks

Creepy Critters That Invade Our Personal Space

This Earth upon which we live is populated by all manner of other animals and creatures other than ourselves. Some of them, we welcome into our homes and call "pets," others we fear and avoid, and still others, we seldom think about, until that day when they cross our paths in unpleasant ways.

These, of course, are various bugs which may at one time or another invade our homes, hitchhiking in on our pets fur or our own clothing. Or, we may encounter them while out enjoying nature on vacation. This is the most likely way to come across these pests.

I refer, of course to the most common offenders, fleas, mosquitoes and ticks.

Flea under electron microscope
Flea under electron microscope | Source

Fleas

Fleas are a problem for any warm-blooded animal, whether it is a dog, cat, or person. There are "dog fleas" and "cat fleas," but in point of fact, the fleas aren't that fussy, and will land upon and bite whomever or whatever happens along.

These little pests are a huge health problem, for they can spread many kinds of diseases in addition to the simple annoyance of their itchy bites.

Prevention and Elimination

Of all the pesky critters, fleas are the smallest, hardest to find and catch. In addition, they have a hard outer shell or exoskeleton, so simply brushing them away or swatting them won't kill them. They have to be either smashed or destroyed by abrasive powders that work their way through the outer protective shell, causing the flea to dry out and die.

Poison sprays of course, work much faster, but have added health hazards of their own.

If you have a flea infestation, you must treat your whole house and yard, or the problem will continue, as the tiny, invisible flea eggs can become trapped in your carpet, or your pets' fur, or even your bedding.

What Does a Flea Bite Look Like?

Flea bites typically happen around the feet and ankles; where there is one flea, there are usually several, so it is common to see bites clustered together
Flea bites typically happen around the feet and ankles; where there is one flea, there are usually several, so it is common to see bites clustered together | Source

Fleas Don't Travel Alone

Another problem from fleas is the transmission of parasites, such as tapeworms. (Bear with me--this gets disgusting.)

In this case, the flea is again the intermediary species. Worm segments, which contain eggs, are shed in animal feces; and herbivores such as rabbits, may then ingest them with food, thus becoming infected, and the cycle continues, either as the rabbit passes segments, or as a predator such as a canine consumes the rabbit. In the case of cats, a mouse or rat is the most likely prey victim to cause the problem, because mice and rats are likely to have fleas, and flea larvae also eat the worm eggs.

It is easy to check your pets for this problem--the shed segments are visible, and look like miniature grains of rice stuck to the stool. If seen, the vet can provide a de-worming medication that will solve the problem.

To prevent recurrences, keep track of your pets--don't let dogs hunt, and keep cats indoors, where they are much less likely to encounter mice or rats to eat.

Mosquitoes are sneaky biters; their bite is not usually felt at the time
Mosquitoes are sneaky biters; their bite is not usually felt at the time

Mosquitoes

We are all familiar with these pesky critters, whining and humming around our ears on warm summer evenings, whispering "cousin, cousin, cousin..." as we swat them, and yell, "Go away! I'm not your cousin!"

The list of diseases carried by these pests is long, and includes yellow fever, malaria and several types of encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), all of which can be fatal. Although mortality has been greatly reduced due to modern drug treatments and vaccination requirements, none of these are illnesses you want to have (not that any illness is desirable, for that matter).

They also carry heart worms which can easily infect dogs. Dogs must be tested while young, and kept on preventative medication year-round. Cats can also become infected, but according to my veterinarian, they are not as much a problem in cats, as they are not really able to 'grab hold,' so the cat is what is known as a 'dead-end' host, just as we humans are.

The most recent headline-grabbing disease to be attributed to the mosquito is West Nile Virus. It causes flu-like symptoms, and can be mis-diagnosed. Blood cultures are required for correct diagnostic work.

What Does a Mosquito Bite Look Like?

Mosquito bites are less likely to be in multiples, unless you have been in a swarm
Mosquito bites are less likely to be in multiples, unless you have been in a swarm

Preventing Mosquito Bites

Prevention with sprays, lotions or other repellents such as citronella candles on the picnic table, is the best protection against mosquito-borne diseases.

The time-honored advice of wearing clothing with long sleeves, and long pants is somewhat debatable, as these annoying insects can bite through thin cloth.

There is ongoing research to discover what makes one person more attractive to mosquitoes than any other person.

The jury is still out, but I have a theory--they may be able to "smell" blood types, and prefer one over another. I've had bites, but they have not been a huge problem for me, while my father, who had the more rare blood type AB used to get "eaten alive" as they say. and likewise for my husband, who has a negative blood type.

Deer Tick, carrier of Lyme Disease
Deer Tick, carrier of Lyme Disease | Source

Ticks

Ticks look a little bit like small spiders, except that they have only six legs, not eight. At first, they may appear to have eight legs, but the front pair are actually feelers, not legs.

Ticks can be acquired directly onto your skin or clothing when in a brushy, wooded area, or transferred on the coat of a pet dog or from another animal.

Diseases carried by ticks are several, but the ones most of us have heard about are Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme Disease. Of these two, the former is more likely to cause fatalities, and treatment with antibiotics must be started within five days of the onset of symptoms.

Lyme Disease, on the other hand, is less likely to be fatal, but can cause lifelong recurring flare-ups. These include debilitating joint pain, and make it difficult to get around.

Preventing Tick Bites

This is where the advice about long sleeves, long pants, and high-topped shoes or boots that leave no gap between pants and shoes comes well into play.

While mosquitoes can and do bite through clothing, a tick must have direct skin contact to do its dirty work.

What Does a Tick Bite Look Like?

Tick bites can be very serious, in that they can transmit diseases for which there are only treatments for symptoms, but no cure.
Tick bites can be very serious, in that they can transmit diseases for which there are only treatments for symptoms, but no cure.

How Do You Get a Tick Out?

Unlike fleas and mosquitoes, which "bite and run," ticks embed themselves into the skin, and must be removed as quickly as possible.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), recommends against using any of the folklore remedies, such as coating it with petroleum jelly, nail polish, or other substances, as these act by making the tick detach, but not quickly. The object is to get rid of the invader as quickly as possible.

So, the recommended procedure is to grasp the tick as close to its head, which is the part buried in the skin, as possible, using clean, fine-tipped tweezers. Then, pull upward slowly and steadily. Jerking it can cause the tick to break in half, leaving the mouth parts embedded in the skin. Not a desirable outcome.

Then, clean the area well with soap and water, alcohol, or an iodine scrub; whichever is available. Wash your hands well, and be sure to dispose of the tick where it will not contact anything else. Down the toilet is the best method.

Advise your doctor if a tick has bitten you and ask what you need to do next. You may have to monitor the area, or even be seen quickly.

Treatments

StingEze Max2 Insect Bite Itch Relief Dauber, 0.5-Ounce
StingEze Max2 Insect Bite Itch Relief Dauber, 0.5-Ounce

This is an awesome remedy to which I was introduced one year when vacationing in Massachusetts. It even works fairly well on bee stings.

 

How Do You Treat These Bites?

The main lingering problem of all insect bites is the itching. It can range from mild to maddening.

There are several old stand-by products on the market, such as that "pink stuff" our parents used to slather on to us for anything from bug bites to measles: calamine lotion.

A more modern itch remedy is a hydrocortisone cream, or an anti-allergen cream such as BenadrylTM. These are creams that rub in completely, and don't leave splotchy, powdery pink residue all over the skin, as did the old-fashioned Calamine lotion. (I remember being nearly completely covered in the stuff the year I got the measles!)

Good to have on hand when traveling is 'sting-eze,' shown just above. It's a good addition to a first aid kit, and is small enough for purse or pocket, so you can treat immediately.

Seasons Matter

The majority of these nasty critters are active in the Spring through Fall, with Summer being the time of year they are most prevalent.

Prevention is the best treatment, and in the case of mosquitoes and ticks, can involve treating your clothing as well as your person with a suitable repellent.

Getting sick is never any fun, and getting very sick from a preventable bug bite is even less so. Make sure your outdoor gear includes fresh repellents for yourself and your pets. And please, don't put poisons on your pets for fleas and ticks. I've written about that in my article on safely keeping these pests off your dogs and cats.

There are other bugs that bite out there, such as chiggers. Chiggers, however, are not harmful to humans, and with the exception of a specific type found only in Asia, do not transmit disease. However, they do cause a horrible, itchy welt, and that misery can last upwards of a week.

The prevention remains similar for them all. There is no need for panic--just awareness and calm preparedness.

All-Around Prevention

If you plan on being in the great outdoors for any length of time, especially out in the woods, or fields, then you really should apply a repellent product.

There are many brands available, but the experts always mention to use one containing the ingredient known as "DEET."

These are found in various forms, from lotions to spray-on types. Choose what best suits your needs for the planned activity and your personal preferences.

Photo Credits

Flea Bite: flickr.com Michael Voelker foter.com creative commons

Mosquito Bite: flickr.com jennycu foter.com creative commons

Tick Bite: flickr.com monkeypuzzle foter.com creative commons

© 2011 DzyMsLizzy

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Comments 5 comments

mireland19 profile image

mireland19 4 years ago from Maine

This is very interesting, I wonder if you might have information on scabies as it is a condition that involve small annoying pests? They are kind of like fleas for humans haha! Really well done!


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 4 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

hello, mireland19--Thanks so much for stopping by. I'm glad you found the article of interest.

I did not include scabies as my focus was primarily on pests using intermediate hosts between people and animals, and who spread what can be dangerous diseases. Scabies does not fall into that category, annoying and uncomfortable though it may be. Thanks for adding that thought, though.


mireland19 profile image

mireland19 4 years ago from Maine

That makes sence and I assumed that was probably why I just didnt know if you had any information on that subject since you had so much great information above. It was very interesting! :)


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 4 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello again, mireland19--

Without writing an entire article here in the comments, I can tell you that scabies is caused by a microscopic mite that burrows under the skin. It is contagious by close physical contact, so the best places to become infected are areas where people are in close quarters for extended periods such as schools and nursing homes. For more detail, I refer you to the site I visited for my information: http://www.bing.com/health/article/mayo-MADS00451/...

Thanks again for your interest.


mireland19 profile image

mireland19 4 years ago from Maine

Thanks for the information and the link and for taking the time to research it =)!

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