Fleas and Ticks
Fleas and ticks are arachnids, 8-legged arthropods. They are similar in that they are both small, wingless, feed on the blood of mammals and often hard to detect, but their similarities end there.
Fleas move by jumping. Once they find a host, rarely do they leave. Fleas like dogs and cats and will happily stay on one host for the duration of their 100-day lifespan. They lay eggs that will bear 20-40 baby fleas, which means if you have a well-fed flea, you soon will have many well-fed fleas. In addition to dogs and cats, fleas like raccoons and rats. While they don’t prefer humans, they will bite humans if there are flea-infested animals in the home. Flea bites cause irritation, swelling and itching and they can spread tapeworm and plague.
Like fleas, ticks feed on the blood of mammals including deer, rodents, rabbits, dogs and cats and humans, to name a few. When they attach to a host, they insert a long mouthpart called a proboscis to feed on the host’s blood. This can take anywhere from 10 minutes to two hours. Usually the host is unaware, as there is an anesthetic property in the tick’s saliva. If a tick has a pathogen from a previous host, it can be transmitted to a new host. A blood meal is necessary for the tick to grow and depending on the type of tick, three to five blood meals are required.
In the DC, Maryland and Northern Virginia region, the most common ticks are blacklegged (deer) ticks, dog ticks and Lone Star ticks.
The blacklegged tick (also referred to as the deer tick) is best known for what it carries: Lyme disease. Lyme disease is a debilitating infection that is often misdiagnosed because early symptoms closely resemble the flu. If untreated patients can develop a host of health problems, including severe headaches, joint pain, and in more serious cases, paralysis, heart palpitations, arthritis, and neurological disorders. Some people will have a bull’s-eye at the site where the tick was attached and had a blood meal, however, not all people develop that, adding another challenge to detecting Lyme. Blacklegged ticks are the size of a sesame seed, which can make them difficult to detect when they are on a host. Blacklegged ticks can also transmit Ehrlichiosis and Anaplasmosis, both of which have similar symptoms of Lyme disease.
The dog tick, known as the American dog tick, is found in open grassy areas with little tree cover and trails. They are reddish-brown and have white/silver markings on the body. They can transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Tularemia. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever can be very dangerous if not caught early. Symptoms include fever, fatigue, abdominal pain, vomiting and muscle pain. A distinct rash can occur, but not in the early stage of infection. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever can be treated with antibiotics. Tularemia causes ulcers where the bacteria entered the body and can cause high fevers.
The Lone Star tick is distinct in appearance because it has a white dot or star in the center of its back. It is brownish grey and larger than the blacklegged tick. Like the American dog tick, the Lone Star tick can transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Tularemia, Ehrlichiosis and most recently, a new disease called STARI. STARI, or Southern Tick Rash Associated Illness, is a newly discovered tick-borne illness that has symptoms similar to Lyme. More research is being done on STARI.
Tick-borne illnesses can range from mild to severe. While it is alarming that something as small as a seed can cause severe health issues, it’s not a reason to avoid the outdoors. Simple measures can help prevent the spread of tick-borne illnesses. If you are outdoors, even in your own backyard, check for ticks daily. Start from the feet and move up. They prefer dark, warm areas and will stay on the body for up to two days. If you see a tick on you, keep a close eye on the site and any changes in your health. If you will be outdoors for an extended period of time, or in an area where ticks are prevalent, wear long pants and sleeves and you can treat your clothing with permethrin. Permethrin is very strong and not meant for use on skin. Bug repellants containing DEET are effective on the skin, but should only be used if the concentration of DEET is between 10 and 30%.
Professional Treatment for Fleas and Ticks
If you think you have a flea infestation, Triple S will come into your home to inspect and treat. To start, homeowners must prepare the home by thoroughly vacuuming all floors prior to treatment by cleaning pet bedding and dispose of pet toys (dispose outside of the home). The objective is to remove as many fleas and eggs as possible to help eliminate the infestation. Next we treat the all the floor surfaces in the home with a residual product labeled for fleas and an IGR (Insect Growth Regulator) designed to inhibit immature fleas from reproducing. No treatment should be repeated in less than two weeks as frequent treatments will not enhance or speed up results, but only add unnecessary product to the home. Depending on the severity of the infestation, several treatments may be needed. Additionally, post treatment, vacuuming should continue everyday for seven to ten days with the bag being discarded after each vacuuming. Again, the idea is to remove live fleas and their eggs from the home.
Ticks are generally treated for in a similar fashion as mosquitos, by spraying the perimeter of the home and all entrances. Triple S focuses on pathways traveled by humans and or animals, which would include areas around the immediate perimeter of the home and about fifty feet out from the perimeter again focusing on threshold areas, such as plant and shrub beds/gardens, flower beds, mulch beds and ornamentals that are low lying. Ticks will be found in shaded areas much like mosquitos.