If you own pets, there is always a concern for fleas and ticks. These pests, however, aren’t just limited to pet owners. They can also be brought into your home by infested wildlife (deer, rodents, etc), on used furniture, rugs, and more. Fleas are the most common external parasite of dogs and cats. Ticks are also external parasites and are second only to mosquitoes as vectors of human disease. Fleas and ticks can infect pets year round.
Fleas and ticks can transmit serious diseases to humans. Here are some of the most common diseases transmitted by both fleas and ticks.
Common Flea Diseases:
Typhus is a disease caused by infection with a Rickettsias bacteria that is transmitted by fleas, mites, lice, and ticks. Scratching a bite opens the skin and allows the bacteria to enter the bloodstream. There are different types of typhus depending on what caused the bite. Typhus is generally not a problem in the United States but it can be transmitted while traveling. Typhus can be serious or even fatal if not treated. Symptoms of typhus include fever, chills, headache and rash. Typhus is often difficult to diagnose because it mimics other diseases like dengue and malaria. Typhus is usually treated with antibiotics.
Plague is a bacterial disease transmitted to humans through fleas. Plague is common in areas of poor sanitation, overcrowding, and large rodent populations. Plague is spread through flea bites, direct contact with infected animals, eating infected animals, or through the scratches or bites of infected animals. Symptoms of plague mimic those of the flu. Plague requires urgent care and can be life threatening if not treated quickly. It is treated with antibiotics and depending on the type of plague, isolation may be required.
Cat Scratch Disease
Cat scratch disease is a bacterial infection that is transmitted from cats who are infected with the Bartonella henselae bacteria. The disease spreads from the scratches or bites from infected cats or when the saliva from infected cats gets into open wounds or the whites of the eyes. People with weakened immune systems are at higher risk for cat scratch disease. Symptoms include a bump or blister at the site of the scratch or bite, fatigue, headache, and fever. Cat scratch disease is difficult to diagnose without a blood test. It is treated with antibiotics.
Tapeworms are found in the intestines of cats, dogs, and humans. Pets get tapeworms by swallowing infected fleas usually when they are grooming. Children and pets will pass segments of tapeworms in their bowel movements. Tapeworms are treated with a medication called praziquantel. This causes the tapeworm to dissolve.
Common Tick Diseases:
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF)
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is a bacterial infection that is spread through the bite of an infected American dog tick, Rocky Mountain wood tick, or brown dog tick. Symptoms of RMSF include vomiting, sudden fever, abdominal pain, rash, muscle aches and headache. RMSF is considered to be the most severe tick-borne disease in the United States. RMSF can cause organ damage and death if not treated quickly. It can be difficult to diagnose, however, because its symptoms mimic other diseases. RMSF can be treated with antibiotics.
Lyme disease is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected black legged or deer tick. Symptoms usually begin within 1 to 2 weeks of a bite. A rash usually (although not always) appears at the site of the bite characterized by a clear spot surrounded by a red edge. Stage 2 of the disease manifests several weeks later and includes flu-like symptoms. This stage can also be complicated by meningitis symptoms. Stage 3 of the disease can manifest weeks, months, or even years after a bite. This stage, if left untreated, can lead to headaches, arthritis, brain disorders, numbness, and memory loss. Early treatment with antibiotics is critical.
Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness (STARI)
STARI is a rash illness caused by the bite of the lone star tick. The rash is similar to that of Lyme disease. Symptoms can also include fatigue, headache, muscle and joint pain, and fever. The rash is characterized by a red, expanding, bull’s eye lesion around the site of the tick bite. Because STARI is often mistaken for Lyme disease and long term effects aren’t yet known, it is often treated with antibiotics.
Ehrlichiosis is a bacterial disease that is primarily transmitted by the bite of a lone star tick, although it can also be spread through the bite of dog and deer ticks. Ehrlichiosis causes flu-like symptoms including fever, chills, aches, nausea, and in rare cases, a rash. This disease can cause serious complications if it is left untreated. The symptoms are often mistaken for Rocky Mountain spotted fever. It is treated with antibiotics.
Tularemia affects wild rodents, squirrels, birds, and rabbits. Humans can become infected with tularemia through direct contact with infected animals or through the bites of infected ticks, mosquitoes, or deer flies. Tularemia can be life threatening. There are different forms of the disease depending on where the bacteria enters your body. The most severe case of tularemia occurs when the bacteria is inhaled. The least severe form is transmitted through the skin. Tularemia is often treated with antibiotics. It is rare with only 100 to 200 cases in the United States each year. Symptoms vary depending on where the bacteria enters your body. Because its symptoms mimic other diseases, tularemia is often difficult to diagnose.
The best way to avoid any of these diseases is through vigilant prevention. Some common ways to prevent both fleas and ticks include:
- Wash hands well after contact with animals.
- Don’t allow children to put dirt in their mouths.
- Cover sandboxes to prevent contamination from fecal matter.
- Use preventative medication for fleas and ticks on your pets year round.
- Clean up cat and dog waste from your yard daily.
- Vacuum frequently.
- Wear long sleeves and tuck pants into socks when spending time outdoors.
- Use insect repellent when outdoors.
- Keep weeds and brush cut back and your lawn maintained.
- If you spot any unattached fleas or ticks, vacuum them up immediately, seal the bag, and dispose of it outside your home.
If you suspect you have a problem with fleas or ticks contact a licensed pest control company who can thoroughly inspect your home and property and set you up with a comprehensive treatment and prevention plan.