Both bed bugs and fleas can leave multiple bites. In many cases, these bites can be intensely itchy and irritating.

Fleas are a common pet care concern. They are particularly common among pets that do not undergo preventative flea treatment. Bed bugs are also common, especially in communal living environments such as nursing homes and hotels.

Fleas can transmit some diseases, such as flea-borne typhus, whereas bed bugs do not typically spread disease.

People with allergies may have intense reactions to bites, and some even develop infections. In most households, however, fleas and bed bugs are an inconvenience, not a real danger.

Being able to tell the difference between fleas and bed bugs is key to getting rid of them. Read on to learn how to identify different bites, and what to do next.

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The bites from both fleas and bed bugs can be itchy and irritating.

Fleas prefer living on furry animals such as cats and dogs, typically around their neck and belly areas. However, they may bite people incidentally, after jumping off a host. In humans, fleabites generally appear on the legs and ankles.

Bed bugs prefer to eat the blood of humans. They therefore take up residence in beds and other places that give them easy access to human blood. They cannot jump or fly.

The table below shows some key differences between fleabites and bed bug bites:

FleasBed bugs
Bite symptomsFleabites cause small bumps that tend to be very itchy.Bites may appear as small red spots that may or may not itch.
Bite developmentBites may have a dark red center. They may also develop into blisters. Scratching these bites can lead to infection.Over time, bed bug bites may produce a hard, white swelling that may bleed.
Bite patternFleabites may group into clusters or lines.The bites sometimes appear in a straight line of three or four bites.
Bite frequencyFleas bite whenever they get the chance.Bed bugs tend to feed every 3 days and may be more likely to feed at night. People who have bed bugs in their home may notice a regular pattern to bites.

Other bites

Fleas and bed bugs are not the only creatures that can bite. Some signs that something else might be the culprit include the fact that:

People who experience bed bug bites do not necessarily have bed bugs living in their home. For example, bites may occur after a trip to a house or hotel infested with bed bugs.

However, there is a fair chance that if a person has stayed in a location with bed bugs, they may have brought some home.

Some signs of a bed bug infestation in the home include:

  • Visible bed bugs: These may appear as tiny bugs or dots in the folds of sheets or pillowcases or in the seams of a mattress.
  • Bed bug exoskeletons: These crunchy looking bed bug shells may be visible in or around the bed.
  • Bed bug feces: These tiny, rust colored spots may appear on the sheets or mattress.
  • An unusual odor: There may be a sweet or musty odor coming from the mattress or sheets.

Some signs that there are fleas in the home include:

  • Visible fleas: There may be visible fleas on a family pet, or tiny jumping insects in the home.
  • Visible flea eggs: These clear or yellowish flecks may be visible on the pet's fur.
  • Visible flea feces: These dark black specks may be visible in a pet's fur or on their bedding.
  • Changes in the pet's behavior: The pet may become unusually itchy or anxious.
  • Changes in the pet's health: The pet may develop anemia from excessive blood loss due to fleabites. If this is the case, their gums may appear pale. A pet with anemia requires veterinary attention.

It is important to note that both fleas and bed bugs can be present in a home at the same time.

After discovering a flea or bed bug bite, a person may want to treat the bite. If an infestation is present, a person should then try to treat the infestation.

Treating the bites

Both bed bug bites and fleabites rarely require treatment. However, some people may choose to apply an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream to soothe the discomfort.

People should avoid scratching the bites, as this can cause further skin irritation.

It is also important for a person to see a doctor if they develop any symptoms of an infection. Such symptoms include fever or intense pain and swelling around the bite.

Treating the infestation

Insecticides can quickly kill bed bugs and prevent them from coming back. The safest option is to hire an exterminator who can treat the infestation. Replacing the bed sheets after this can help minimize a person's exposure to the pesticides.

Exterminators are not usually necessary to eliminate a flea infestation. People with pets should contact a veterinarian to explore options for killing fleas and flea eggs on a pet.

Because fleas prefer to live on furry animals, they usually die shortly after the pet receives treatment. Thoroughly vacuuming and washing the pet's bedding in hot water can help eliminate flea eggs.

If the fleas do not disappear after treating the pet, or if there is no pet, people should contact an exterminator. The exterminator will establish whether or not fleas really are the culprit. They will then decide on the appropriate treatment for the home.

Bed bugs are generally harmless to people and cannot spread disease. Some fleas carry diseases such as plague or flea-borne typhus. Both fleas and bed bugs can be a serious inconvenience, and many people feel disgusted upon seeing them.

In most cases, a few simple home treatments can rid the home of both bed bugs and fleas.

Because exterminating these pests requires the use of toxic pesticides, the safest option is to work with a professional. Ask a veterinarian about the safest way to kill fleas, and consult an exterminator about safely eliminating bed bugs from the home.