North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

October 7, 2009

Do you or your pet have an itch? It could be a flea infestation

Health Watch By Steve Mullenix

The North Jefferson News

An old Turkish proverb states: “You don’t burn a blanket to get rid of a flea.”

However, if you have ever had fleas in your home, you might consider it.

Fleas have a relatively simple life cycle, which makes interrupting it easy. The female must take a blood meal in order to produce eggs. The female normally lays her eggs within two days of her first blood feast.

These eggs are usually found in pet bedding, carpets or upholstery. The normal flea population at any given area comprises of 50 percent eggs, 35 percent larvae, 10 percent pupae, and only 5 percent biting adults.

One of the first tell-tale signs of a flea infestation is the unexplained bites about the ankles and lower legs. To be sure you have a flea infestation, you need to look for flea feces.

This will be small grains of what look like dirt, but if you rub it between your fingers with a small amount of water, it will turn red from the dried blood. The most common place to look first is on your pet’s belly or favorite bedding if you have a pet inside the home.

When addressing a flea infestation it is imperative that the home and animal, if one is involved, both be treated. In eradicating fleas in the home, it is essential that suspected areas of infestation be keep as clean as possible, which means to vacuum often and change the vacuum bag frequently.

Flea bombs are a quick way to kill adult fleas, but present the problem of having to be used in a tightly closed area. Also, fleas tend to have an annoying ability to evolve, and over time have become immune to some of the pesticides used in these flea foggers.

As stated earlier, disruption of the life cycle is the best way to address the problem, and fleas are easiest killed in the egg and larvae stages.

Sprinkle diatomaceous earth around the areas of infestation. This is actually the fossilized diatoms of sea creatures from times long past. They look like little razor blades cutting the fleas to ribbons, and causing them to dehydrate or bleed to death. This of course does not work well on the adults. Be sure to vacuum the area frequently, and avoid inhaling the power yourself.

DE or diatomaceous earth can usually be found at a pet store or pool supply house, but you may not want to buy a 50 pound bag.

In treating your pet, contact your veterinarian. There are many options such as dips, shampoos, lotions or oral meds to give your pet to control fleas on them.

The biggest thing to do is wait. Remember, disturb the life cycle and you can easily kill the eggs and larva. However, the pupae are a pain. You may have to wait up to two weeks to get them wiped out.

Continue to vacuum at least twice a day, wash bedding and clean upholstery, and within a month you should be itch free.

Steve Mullenix (R.Ph) co-owns The Pharmacy in Mount Olive with his wife, Sherry Mullenix (J.D., R.N.). They can be reached at 631-1201.