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Fleas are jumping parasitic insects that are ubiquitous across the globe. These creatures have tormented humans and animals alike for centuries with their bites – which can lead to severe itching and in some cases, more serious diseases.
The question then arises: do fleas carry Lyme disease? To answer this, we need to understand how Lyme disease is transmitted and its relation to fleas.
Habitats and Host Preferences of Fleas
Fleas are incredibly adaptable and live in a wide range of environments worldwide. While they can survive in diverse climates, their preference leans toward warm, humid conditions. Cold and dry environments are less conducive to their survival.
Fleas do not discriminate amongst potential hosts as some other parasites do. Mammals are their primary targets such as deer, household pets, mice etc. But fleas can infest birds and reptiles as well. Their choice of host depends primarily on availability, and while fleas survive on blood from the host, they do not have a preference for blood type.
A Closer Look at Lyme Disease: Causes and Transmission
What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is an infectious disease resulting from the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi.
How is Lyme Disease Transmitted?
Lyme Disease is most commonly transmitted to humans through the bite of infected black-legged ticks, or deer ticks where the bacterium can be transmitted to the host’s bloodstream, leading to the actual infection.
Lyme disease is not limited to humans; it can also affect dogs, horses, and other mammals. The ticks become infected when they feed on infected hosts, such as mice, birds, or deer.
The good news is Lyme disease cannot be transmitted from humans to other humans.
Symptoms and Effects of Lyme Disease
The disease manifests with symptoms like fever, headache, fatigue, and a skin rash known as erythema migrans. If not promptly treated, Lyme disease can lead to more serious health problems affecting the heart, joints, and nervous system.
Do Fleas Carry and Transmit Lyme Disease?
Contrary to some beliefs, fleas do not carry or transmit Lyme disease. While fleas can be carriers for a host of other diseases, scientific research up to June 2023 has found no evidence linking fleas to the spread of Lyme disease.
The transmission of Lyme disease is primarily associated with ticks, particularly the black-legged tick in North America and certain hard-bodied ticks in Europe and Asia.
The life cycle and feeding behavior of ticks are suitable for the transmission of this bacterium, unlike fleas, whose feeding habits and life cycles do not support the bacterium’s survival and propagation.
The Reality: Diseases Transmitted by Fleas
While Lyme disease is not within their repertoire, fleas are carriers of other notable diseases & parasites:
- Bubonic Plague
- Murine Typhus
- Cat Scratch Fever (through the bacteria known as Bartonella Henselae)
Fleas were the primary vector for the Bubonic Plague or Black Death, which decimated Europe’s population during the Middle Ages. This disease is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis and is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected rat flea.
In addition to the Bubonic Plague, fleas can also transmit Murine Typhus and Bartonella Henselae, the bacteria responsible for Cat Scratch Disease. They can also spread tapeworms to both pets and humans, especially if a flea is swallowed inadvertently.
Prevention and Control of Lyme Disease and Flea Infestations
How to Prevent Lyme Disease Infection
Preventing and controlling Lyme disease largely revolves around avoiding exposure to ticks, the primary vectors of the disease. This involves avoiding densely wooded or grassy areas where ticks are commonly found, especially during warmer months when ticks are most active.
When venturing into such areas, use insect repellents containing DEET on skin and clothing or permethrin on clothing and camping gear. Consider wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts, and tuck pant legs into socks for extra protection. You can also use natural remedies like tea tree oil to deter contact.
How to Prevent and Control Flea Infestations
To prevent and control flea infestations, regularly vacuum your home, paying particular attention to carpets, upholstery, and areas where your pets sleep or spend a lot of time. Wash pet bedding weekly in hot water. For your pets, use preventative flea treatments recommended by your veterinarian, such as monthly topical applications, oral medications, or specially treated collars.
Keep your yard free of debris and trim grass and bushes short to reduce ideal flea habitats. In case of a severe infestation, consider hiring a pest control professional like Mozzie Dome.