Fleabites in humans may appear as a small, discolored bump, possibly with a ring or halo around it. If there are multiple bites, they may be in a straight line or a cluster.

Fleas usually prefer to bite other animals, but they can bite humans too. When they do, the bites can be itchy and painful. The bites do not often cause serious problems, but fleas can sometimes carry diseases. A famous example of this is the bubonic plague.

Owning a pet increases the risk of a flea infestation, but fleas can enter the home on any fabric or fur. Once in the home, their quick breeding cycle means they can rapidly become a nuisance.

This article covers everything you need to know about fleabites, including how to identify and treat them, and how to keep pets and the home free of fleas.

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Fleabites are very small bumps. In lighter skin tones, they will have a central red spot. In darker skin tones, the bumps may be a similar color to the surrounding skin, or a darker brown. The bites may appear in groups and sometimes appear in a line.

Fleabites on humans often appear around the feet and ankles. Sometimes, fleas can spread across the body and bite any exposed skin, such as the arms or scalp.

How often do fleas bite humans?

Humans are often the secondary options when it comes to fleabites, as they do not make good hosts. They tend to become targets for hungry fleas who have not yet found another, more suitable host.

Most people will not develop significant symptoms from a fleabite. They are a nuisance that need to be dealt with, but they usually do not cause serious health problems. Because the bites are so small, a person may not notice them.

Two potential complications of fleabites are infections and allergic reactions. Scratching the bite may cause a secondary infection by allowing bacteria to get into the skin or bloodstream. This may lead to:

  • swelling
  • redness or discoloration
  • pus or discharge
  • fever

Additionally, people who are allergic to insect bites may have an allergic reaction. This may result in:

Rarely, a person may have a serious allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis.

Anaphylaxis: Symptoms and what to do

Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that can be life threatening. The symptoms develop suddenly and include:

  • hives
  • swelling of the face or mouth
  • wheezing
  • fast, shallow breathing
  • a fast heart rate
  • clammy skin
  • anxiety or confusion
  • dizziness
  • vomiting
  • blue or white lips
  • fainting or loss of consciousness

If someone has these symptoms:

  1. Check whether they are carrying an epinephrine pen. If they are, follow the instructions on the side of the pen to use it.
  2. Dial 911 or the number of the nearest emergency department.
  3. Lay the person down from a standing position. If they have vomited, turn them onto their side.
  4. Stay with them until the emergency services arrive.

Some people may need more than one epinephrine injection. If the symptoms do not improve in 5–15 minutes, or they come back, use a second pen if the person has one.

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Do fleas carry diseases?

Some fleas in the United States carry diseases they can transmit when they bite humans. These include:

  • Flea-borne typhus: This occurs when fleas infected with a bacterium known as Rickettsia typhi bite humans. These fleas can be present in rats, cats, and opossums. In the U.S., most cases of flea-borne typhus occur in Hawaii, California, or Texas, but the geographic area and incidence of this disease is growing.
  • Flea-borne spotted fever: This disease occurs due to a different type of bacteria, known as Rickettsia felis, which mainly affects cat fleas. Flea-borne spotted fever occurs around the world.
  • Plague: Plague is most well-known for causing millions of deaths in medieval Europe, but the disease still exists. It occurs when mammals infected with Yersinia pestis bacteria bite humans. Today, cases in the U.S. still occur, mostly in rural western areas. It is a serious condition, but antibiotics can treat it.

Other flea-borne diseases affect humans indirectly. For example, cats with fleas that scratch humans can transmit cat scratch disease, also known as cat scratch fever.

Keeping pets flea-free, preventing rats from getting in the home, and avoiding contact with wild animals that may carry infected fleas reduces the spread of these diseases.

It is important to know the differences between the bites of these common parasites to avoid treating the wrong infestation. The table below compares and contrasts them:

FleabitesMosquito bitesBedbug bites
AppearanceTiny bumpLarger raised bump similar to a hive. There may be a visible bite in the middle.Can range from being almost invisible to causing bumps over 1 centimeter wide.
LocationOften the ankles, but can occur on any exposed skin.Any exposed skin.Anywhere, but often the face, neck, or hands.
SymptomsMay be itchy or painful.May cause warmth and itchiness.May cause itching or burning.
PatternMay be in clusters or lines.No pattern.Can occur in lines.
TimingCan occur at any time for as long as there is an infestation.May only occur during the day or night, or during certain seasons, depending on the type of mosquito.Usually at night when a person is asleep.
Other signsPets that scratch themselves a lot, have spots of blood on their skin, or tiny bugs in their fur.

Proximity or contact with animals that often carry fleas, such as rats or squirrels.
Visible flying insects indoors or outdoors.Spots of blood on bedding.

Brown spots on furniture from bedbug feces.

If a person notices flea bites, they should wash the skin with soap and water. If a person experiences itchiness, they can try applying cold packs or calamine lotion.

If hives appear, there is swelling, or severe itchiness, a person can speak with a pharmacist or doctor. They may suggest antihistamines or a topical corticosteroid.

To avoid a secondary infection, it is important that people do not try to scratch fleabites. Treating the bites will help reduce the itching. If the bite does show signs of infection, a doctor can provide antibiotics.

The only way to stop fleabites from happening is to remove or avoid the source of the fleas. Often, the source is a household pet. As a result, it is important to know how to treat and prevent fleas in pets.

Removing fleas in animals

If a cat or dog has fleas, people can ask a vet for advice on treatment. They may recommend a topical treatment, tablets, or injections. Follow the instructions for use.

People should also treat pets for worms at the same time as they treat for fleas. This is because flea larvae can carry worm eggs. If a pet eats an affected flea, they may get worms.

If the source of the fleas is rats in the home, it is important to trap and remove the rats, then seal any entry points they could be using to get inside.

Removing fleas from the home

While addressing the source of the fleas, people will also need to remove any remaining fleas or eggs from the home.

There are a number of steps people can follow to rid the home of fleas while treating their pet. These include:

  • laundering all bedding and soft furnishings at a high temperature, as well as any cat or dog beds, coats, or collars
  • regularly sweeping and vacuuming floors, skirting boards, rugs, furniture, and mattresses
  • discarding the dust bag from vacuum cleaners after use
  • making outdoor spaces less habitable for fleas by keeping grass short

Flea foggers or smoke bombs are also available for rooms that contain fleas and their eggs. If using one of these products, follow the instructions carefully.

These steps can kill fleas at every stage in their life cycle until none remain in the home. Periodically treating pets for fleas can ensure they do not come back.

Fleas can be difficult to destroy. If they reoccur, it could be because some eggs were left in the home, or because pets are returning to places where fleas live. For example, cats may climb onto other properties or chase rats.

If this could be the case, it may be worth seeking advice from a vet on how to prevent reinfestation, assistance from a professional exterminator to rid the home of fleas, or both.

In humans, most fleabites resolve on their own without causing any health problems, but if a person develops any of the following after noticing fleabites, they should call a doctor:

  • swollen glands
  • fever
  • chills
  • headache
  • muscle aches

People should also seek professional advice if they have a persistent or severe flea problem. Although the bites are usually not harmful in themselves, continuous draining of blood can become harmful to small or frail pets.

Fleas can also cause other health problems for animals. For example, they can spread myxomatosis to rabbits, which is a serious illness.

Fleabites can be itchy and uncomfortable, but they are usually not dangerous. They appear as tiny bumps, which may be red, similar to one’s skin tone, or darker than a person’s skin tone. The ankles are a common place for fleas to bite, but they could bite any area of exposed skin.

Washing the skin with soap and water and reducing itchiness with topical treatments is typically all that is necessary to treat fleabites. To stop fleabites, people need to remove fleas from the home. This may involve treating household pets, thorough cleaning to remove eggs, or possibly contacting an exterminator.

Ensuring pets do not get fleas, and that they get prompt treatment if they show signs of having fleas, can stop them from spreading and affecting humans.