My arms covered in bites!
I grew up constantly facing the bothers of insects- living on a lake was a breeding ground for mosquitos, while wasps and flies threatened my family's enjoyment of doing things outdoors. But there is nothing, and I mean nothing, I have experienced in my life that comes close to the annoyance, complete insanity I'm driven to, after being bitten by a flea. Unlike misquotes, scratching a flea bite cannot be avoided by pure willpower. About a full day after I'm bitten by a flea, the spot will turn red and sometimes puff up to about the size of a dime. A bite, scratched or not, will stay that way itching for a week or two. In fact, contrary to mosquitos, scratching seems to help rather than aggravate the bite. The only way I can come out of my misery sometimes is to just scratch a bite until it bleeds, because from that point on the itching will stop. And although that is not usually my intention, I often unknowingly do so while I am asleep. To make matters worse, there is never just one bite, most often there is a whole string of bites along my waist or ankle. There have been multiple times where I have counted over 100 bites at one time.
When I first started getting bites in Chile I was unsure what they were. I was living at my host family's house at the time, and they insisted they could not be flea bits as their house could not possibly have fleas. I went to a dermatologist to see what the problem was, however she never actually even looked at a bite, she just automatically told me I had flea bites, and prescribed some medicine because she said people from cold weather have a higher body temperature and are especially allergic to the bites, yet fleas are "uninterested in Chilean blood." (The meds turned out ot be a bottle of "dry skin lotion", as it said on the label in English. I'm not sure if this dermatologist was crazy, anyway, I mean how could she not even ask to see a bite? What if I had hives or chicken pox or something?!) Perhaps needless to say, the lotion didn't do anything at all except make me smell toxic. My host family went into cleaning and vacuuming frenzy, seemingly embarrassed that their house would appear to have fleas. But despite looking spotless with clean sheets daily, their efforts hardly did a thing to offset the number of bites I was getting.
On and off since then I have experienced the same phenomenon of dozens of bites on and off. 2 years ago when I arrived from the US, I was covered in bites already by the time we got to our hostel from the airport! I am obviously a complete magnet for these little dudes. During this whole time, my boyfriend (with whom I live, swap sweatshirts with, etc) has had a total of about 5 bites. To this day, I have very very rarely seen a flea where I am living. But I often spot them or feel them bite me when I am on the bus or collectivo- with no possibility of avoiding them. I even get bitten in the cleanest of places. Unfortunately, contrary to what most people would like to think, being bitten by fleas doesn't necessarily imply an uncleanly living space or that the person him/herself is crawing with the little buggers.
Understanding how fleas work makes it all the more disgusting to think about. The little pests are nearly unstoppable! According to the Frontline website, a flea can lay up to 50 eggs a day and 2,000 in a lifetime. Basically, if one mama flea ever sets foot in your house or on your pet, you are screwed forever, "One adult flea could lead to tens of thousands." The eggs lie dormant until they are somehow prompted to hatch, such as when people or pets walking near provide warmth or even carbon dioxide from their breath. Adult fleas must initially find food within a week, but after that can go for up to a year without. Fleas can cause a variety of diseases in animals and some could even be passed on to humans-fleas transferred the bubonic plague, and can transfer typhus fever and tapeworm. Think of this in terms of quantity: Wikipedia says "A flea population is unevenly distributed, with 50 percent eggs, 35 percent larvae, 10 percent pupae, and 5 percent adults." Eew.
The Frontline site had this nasty diagram of the life cycle that gave me shivers just reading it and thinking of how this matter must exist everywhere in this city full of stray animals.
It's a good idea to check pets for fleas on a regular basis. It is especially important to check if your pets seem unusually nervous or grumpy, or if they're scratching more than seems natural.
The average life of the egg stage is 10 days.
After hatching, the larvae find a dark place in your home and feed on flea feces. They grow, molt twice and spin cocoons where they grow into pupae.
The average life of the larval stage is 12 days.
Pupae spend 8-9 days in their cocoon growing to adulthood, then wait for signals that it is time to emerge.
The average life of the pupal stage is 4 - 5 months. Many pupae are present in the household before adults are seen.
Adult fleas detect a host from inside their cocoons at which point they leave the cocoon, hop onto a host, find a mate and start the cycle again.
The average life of an adult flea is 50 days.
I have searched HIGH and LOW for the miracle cure, without much luck. I spend $8,000 monthly to buy Frontline for my cat and I have tried obsessively cleaning, I have tried crazy repellants and itch-relieving creams and gels... All to observe only minor results (and smell like garlic until my boyfriend put his foot down on that experiment), which are hard to measure against the chance that the fleas simply weren't biting me for this period of time. They come in waves. I am open to any and all suggestions, no matter how crazy! This is what I've got so far:
To treat skin: benedryl, cortisone, Camomile lotion, Also a bath with TCP and bicarbonate of soda, calamine
To treat the house: I've heard recommendations of borax, permethrin spray, natural flea treatment made from boric acid, dusting with Diatomaceous earth, and even the hazardous home contraption of a lamp over a bowl of soapy water, Raid, Fleabuster, etc...
To prevent bites: Eat garlic, vitamin B, use Avon SKIN SO SOFT Original Bath Oil mosquoito and flea repellant, brewer's yeast in your food
To treat the cat, there is Frontline, Advantage, an imitation French brand, flea collars, ... I haven't personally found any to work that well. They definitely show a sharp decrease in the number of fleas but not necessarily the 100% they claim. Not to mention, these treatments are expensive.