More often than not, enjoying the beach also means dealing with sand fleas and the unpleasant skin conditions they cause. But what are they exactly? Should you be concerned if you get bitten by them? Here is a quick guide to help you get through such uncomfortable situations.
What Are Sand Fleas and Where Do They Come From?
Sand fleas go by different names: pigue, chigoe flea, pico, jigger, Pulex penetrans, Sarcopsylla penetrans, etc. These are wingless, shrimp-looking creatures with specialized mouthparts which help them suck blood. Because of their features and appearance, sand fleas are commonly mistaken as crustaceans.
The body of sand fleas usually has 7 segments and its length is only about 1 mm, making them difficult to see with the naked eye. They have long legs that help them in jumping and swimming. They aren’t good jumpers, though: they can only cover 20-40 cm. in a single jump. As such, sand fleas don’t travel long distances; they are found within a narrow radius near bodies of water such as beaches, lake beds, creeks, and pools. Beaches, however, are their main dwelling place so regular beach-goers are the most common victims.
Sand Flea Bites
A regular sand flea bite is similar to a common mosquito bite: the flea sucks blood and leaves for another host, leaving an itchy, and sometimes painful, swollen mark. The fleas inject the host with saliva to make the former’s blood thinner and thus easier to suck. That saliva is what causes skin irritation. This may also result in allergic reactions.
Breeding Sand Flea Bites
This type of sand flea bites is worse than the regular one. Breeding female sand fleas burrow under the skin and hide there for about two weeks, waiting for their eggs to hatch. The affected body parts swell and dark spots appear at the center of the swollen area/s. If you’re showing this symptom, seek treatment right away.
Sand Flea Bites Symptoms
Both types of sand flea bites cause symptoms such as pain, itching, discomfort, and unpleasantness. If you are allergic to flea bites, you may experience more severe reactions accompanied by dizziness, chest pain, difficulty in breathing, nausea, and swelling of lips and tongue.
When breeding sand fleas burrow under your skin, you may experience further symptoms like fever and infection, which may develop into an inflammatory skin disease called tungiasis. This condition must be treated immediately to avoid secondary infections.
How to Get Rid of Sand Fleas
Sand fleas do not compare to the regular fleas we know – they are far worse. When threatened, they resist and bite harder. They could even attach themselves to your pets and stuff and make their way into your home. Here are some ways to get rid of these pesky pests:
• Be familiar with how sand fleas look like: Common sand fleas are either brown or gray with antennae and a tail. You will not be able to spot these pests easily because they hide in dark areas of the house. If suspicious bites start to appear among pets or family members, try to seek for pupae or larvae in hidden, undisturbed areas of your house.
• Clean your home extensively: Your best weapon in this job is salt. Fleas dehydrate and eventually die if sprinkled with salt. Prior to vacuuming, sprinkle salt on carpets and other similar areas and let it stand for 24 hours. Before washing, disinfect covers, linens, and other materials that may have been the hiding place of the pests.
• Use pesticide spray and steam-clean: Before vacuuming, you may use pesticide sprays to kill the sand fleas and destroy their hatching/breeding grounds. Another option is steam-cleaning on high temperature. If you’re growing vegetables, you may sprinkle diatomaceous earth generously around the house – this will eliminate fleas without harming the plants.
• Vacuum, seal off and repair all cracks, crevices and fissures in and around your home: Fleas commonly dwell in cracks, crevices, and narrow spaces in which they can squeeze themselves in and hide. Vacuum these areas thoroughly and periodically. Properly discard the vacuum bags then repair and seal off the cracks. Re-occupying the spot will also help in preventing their return.
Sand Fleas Treatment
In the event that you’ve already been bitten by these blood-sucking parasites, here is how you can treat it:
• First and foremost, do not scratch the bites. Scratching the bites increases the risk of getting an infection in the wound.
• Apply hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion on the affected areas to alleviate itching. You may also take painkillers to ease pain and swelling that typically come with flea bites. If these do not work, see a doctor for proper treatment.
• A mixture of water and baking soda may also give some relief. Simply apply it on the affected area/s and let it do its work. An oatmeal bath is another way to ease itching, just make sure the water isn’t too hot.
• If you scratched the bites too hard and developed wounds, you may benefit from the soothing effects of aloe vera.
• Essential oils such as lavender, tea tree, cedar wood, and eucalyptus are also helpful in getting rid of any skin discomfort.
As always, prevention is better than cure. Prevent getting sand flea bites by staying away from the beach in the morning, in the evening, and when it’s raining. Enjoy the beach when it’s dry and warm outside. Bring an insect repellant whenever you’re going to the beach for added protection.