Fleas are small insects that feed on the blood of humans, dogs, cats, and other warm-blooded animals.
Pulicosis; Dog fleas; Siphonaptera
Fleas prefer to live on dogs and cats. They may also be found on humans and other warm-blooded animals.
Pet owners may not be bothered by fleas until their pet has been gone for a long period of time. Fleas look for other sources of food and begin to bite humans.
Bites often occur on the legs and places where clothes fit close to the body, such as the waist, buttocks, thighs, and lower abdomen.
Symptoms of flea bites include:
- Small red bumps, often three bumps together, that are very itchy
- Blisters if the person has an allergy to flea bites
Exams and Tests
Usually, a diagnosis can be made when the health care provider examines the skin where the bites are. Questions may be asked about contact with animals such as cats and dogs.
In rare cases, a skin biopsy is done to rule out other skin problems.
You can use an over-the-counter 1% hydrocortisone cream to relieve itching. Antihistamines you take by mouth may also help with itching.
Scratching can lead to a skin infection.
Prevention may not always be possible. The goal is to get rid of the fleas. This can be done by treating your home, pets, and outside areas with chemicals (pesticides). Small children should not be in the home when pesticides are being used. Birds and fish must be protected when chemicals are sprayed. Home foggers and flea collars do not always work to get rid of fleas. Always consult your veterinarian for help.
Habif TP. Infestations and bites. In: Habif TP, ed. Clinical Dermatology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 15.
James WD, Berger TG, Elston DM. Parasitic infestations, stings, and bites. In: James WD, Berger TG, Elston DM, eds. Andrews' Diseases of the Skin: Clinical Dermatology. 12th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 20.
Reviewed By: Michael Lehrer, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Dermatology, University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.