Having a dog or a cat comes with many benefits. They're fun to snuggle or cuddle up with while watching television. They run around and play in the house and in the yard. They keep us company when we're alone, and they lift our spirits when we're feeling down. The list goes on and on. Our pets are more than just animals that live with us. They're furry family members. But there are many challenges to having pets. They may require us to take them out for a walk and bring them to locations where they can do their business. They may do their business inside and it is our business to clean the litter box. Our pets can also increase our chances of having a flea infestation and inadvertently expose us to flea-borne illnesses.
Most diseases that fleas transmit affect us and our pets but they don't always affect our pets in the same way. Some illnesses, like bartonellosis, can make us very sick, but only cause a few days of mild fever for our dog or cat.
There are at least 22 named species of bacteria from the genus Bartonella. One strain of Bartonella bacteria, known as Bartonella henselae, can be passed from a cat to a human through a bite, scratch, or saliva. This disease, which is referred to as cat scratch disease, may catch you by surprise when it is spread by saliva. If your cat is infected and he or she licks you on your face, near your eye, it could cause blindness. You can also become sick if your cat licks an open wound on your skin. According to the CDC, around 12,000 U.S. residents are diagnosed with this disease every year and nearly 500 are hospitalized. Cat scratch disease can be transmitted directly through a bite from a flea as well.
Another common disease spread by fleas to people is Murine typhus. This is an illness produced by a bacterium called Rickettsia typhi. Homes that have a flea infestation and a rodent infestation at the same time have a greater chance of this illness. Symptoms can appear anywhere between 6 and 14 days after exposure to the bacterium. Early symptoms are headaches, fever, chills, rash, loss of appetite, stomach pain, cough, nausea, and possible vomiting. Most people who contract Murine typhus recover on their own without medical attention. In severe cases, this illness can damage internal organs such as the kidneys, liver, heart, lungs, and brain. This disease is also transmitted directly by a bite from an infected flea.
An indirect illness that can affect people, but more often affects dogs and cats, is the parasite known as tapeworm. When a dog or cat grooms itself to get fleas off, it can accidentally ingest fleas during that process. If a dog or cat swallows a flea that has a tapeworm inside it, it can make them sick. Keep watch for the symptoms of tapeworm such as abdominal pain, weakness, diarrhea, a loss of appetite, diarrhea, vomiting, dizziness, and weight loss.
While rare, it is possible for a human to swallow a tapeworm and get sick. If you notice the above symptoms in you or a loved one, consult your physician. Tapeworms can be easily treated with oral medications.
Another rare illness that can be transmitted by fleas is the plague. Yes, the plague is still around. While it doesn't usually lead to death, as it did back in the Middle Ages, it is still a horrible illness. The plague is usually connected to a flea infestation that is accompanied by a rat infestation.
A flea infestation is a serious frustration. But it can also present a serious health risk for you, your family and your pet(s). Please don't take any chances. When fleas appear in your home, reach out to a pest control provider for a fast resolution. If you are in our Massachusetts or Connecticut service area, know that American Pest Solutions is here to help. We are a full-service pest control provider offering interior flea control, exterior flea reduction and also rodent monitoring and control. Get started with a free evaluation!