Significance Of Fleas

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Fleas are important to humans because of their potential as disease vectors, in addition to the annoyance they produce merely by biting. Pathogen transmission is facilitated by their habit of feeding sequentially on several hosts. The best known disease associated with fleas is bubonic plague; the plague bacterium, Yersiniapestis, is transmitted almost exclusively by rodent fleas. Murine typhus is another disease for which cat fleas have been implicated in the transmission cycle. The flea-borne typhus causative agent, Rickettsia typhi, is transmitted from its rodent reservoir by several flea species, including C. felis. Fleas probably play a role in maintenance and transmission of several other disease organisms such as Bartonella henselae, causing cat scratch disease. The cat flea is the intermediate host for the dog tapeworm, Dipylidium caninum, which can affect small children as well as dogs and cats.

Pets infested with fleas bite and scratch themselves repeatedly. In situations in which flea numbers are high, veterinarians occasionally see kittens and puppies near death from flea-produced anemia. Sensitized people suffer from flea bites, which can cause intense itching, with scratching opening the skin to infection.

Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) is a severe condition found primarily in dogs, but also occasionally seen in cats. In a flea-allergic animal, flea salivary antigens initiate a cascade of symptoms, resulting in intense pruritus accompanied by scratching, biting, and self-inflicted trauma. An affected animal typically displays obsessive grooming behavior, with accompanying depilation, leaving the skin with weeping sores, often resulting in secondary infection. FAD is treated with corticosteroids, which possess undesirable side effects, especially when continuous use is required as in chronic FAD cases. Until development of FAD immunotherapy, successful treatment involves flea elimination from the animal's environment and flea bite prevention.

Fleas and their associated diseases can constitute over half a veterinary practice's caseload in some areas of the country. More energy and money are spent battling these insects than any other problem in veterinary medicine.

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