Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Bane of my Existence

As much as I'd love to blame my biggest frustration in Chile on stares, catcalls, or navigating through bureaucracy to collect stamps, my real answer is: FLEAS- Valparaiso is full of fleas.

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.

Egg stage:
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.

Larval stage:
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.

Pupal stage:
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 stage:
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 ag
ainst 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.

Any ideas?


  1. Arghh, I was reading this and the itching started all over again! Every time I go to Viña to my gf´s parent´s house, I get to sleep in a room on the third floor, and wake up the next day just like your picture. The difference in body temperature is a good explanation why they never get bitten and I suffer all the anger of those starving fleas...
    Few years ago, we had a dog with some fleas, and we used "Asuntol", it´s a white dust you put on water and then spray all over the place, it worked, but I don´t know if the cold winter in Temuco helped.
    Here´s some tips I found:
    1.- Vacuuming, this measure removes many eggs, larvae and pupae develop in the house. Vacuuming also stimulates immature fleas soon out of their cocoons that are resistant to pesticides. The cleaner improves the penetration of pesticides, because they lead to the bases of the carpet fibers where the developing fleas live. Clean thoroughly, especially in areas where pets are resting or sleeping. Do not forget to vacuum along edges of the room and under furniture, cushions, beds and carpets. After vacuuming, tightly close the vacuum bag in another bag of garbage, and dispose it in a container outside the house.
    2.- Wash, dry wash or destroy all the bedding belonging to pets.
    3.- Many different products are available for treatment at home. The most effective formulations contain both a chemical that kills adult fleas (eg permethrin) and an insect growth regulator (methoprene or pyriprooxyfen as) it is necessary to remove the eggs, larvae and pupae. Pet owners need to read carefully the "active ingredients" on the product label to determine if the product has the "adulticide and insect growth regulator. Some examples of products that have both are "Raid Flea Killer Plus" ®, "Siphotrol Plus" ®, "Bio Flea Halt" ™ and "Fleatrol" ®. The majority of homeowners will find that the aerosol formulations are easier to apply than the liquid. In addition, aerosol products can be dispersed by hand-and therefore, directly under the beds, furniture, etc.

    It seems to be a Valparaiso/Viña thing, but if you succeed, please tell, so I can be prepared my next time in Viña xD.
    It´s good to read from you again.

  2. OH MY GOD. I must be uninteresting to fleas, as I don't believe I've ever had a bite, and I have several friends with pets in Santiago. I've been living in uniformed bliss all this time. I hope you find a solution, and yes! I did find you. Now I have to replace your link with this one on my blogroll. Why no redirect, or did you put one and I didn't see it?

  3. "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."

    That's reassuring. I've had had a suspicion that the bites I've been getting could be fleas, ugh. The other day, I went into a frenzy of sweeping and washing and eating raw garlic, which both shocked and disgusted Stu. Haven't had any new bites since... fingers crossed!

    Can you get borax here?

  4. I will let you know if i find the trick marmo! but in general your advice is the logical stuff everybody says yet would require 24/7 to actually do. thats what happened with my host family and the nana that spent all day everyday cleaning my room and it didn't do much. I can only do so much haha, and unfortunately it looks like I'm doomed.

    eileen- well i didn't think of redirecting, possibly because there was no overlap and i just didnt exist for a few days. now that you have implanted the thought... i guess i dont know how to do that anyway. i only have like 30 readers anyway. they're a smart bunch ;-)

    ugh. when i was in santiago I got bitten all the time, and when I complained to another woman from the US that I saw everyday, she was like "what fleas?"

    Truthfully, despite the fact that I see animals with fleas ALL THE TIME, I don't think being around them hardly changes the circumstances at all. I would always get constantly attacked long before we had a pet, and when we adopted my cat off the street (FULL of fleas, which we treated but i'm sure they had their chance at me and maybe some escaped)... I didn't get any bites for a couple weeks. for me, its more on public transportation that I get bit. I know because I can sometimes feel the bites and a few times have seen the fleas on the bus.

    nat- hahahha yeah my boyfriend did NOT like my experiment with garlic. and it was problematic because i wasnt sure if the garlic was "working" or if it was just chance that I didn't get bit much that/those days. i have no idea about borax specifically.

  5. I have no idea who you are...I just googled fleas in Chile and found this page. I'm here in Chile also, kinda near Vina (in Melipilla, an hour from Santiago) and am having the same silly problem. I think some people are true magnets for them since I've gotten them before in a house that had pets with fleas but no other people got bites except me. Here in Chile, I was embarrassed to tell the owner of the house about my problem but he's gonna try to get some flee killer stuff. Also read & heard that the quake may have shaken them out of cracks and crevices where they may have been hiding too. Anyway, sorry we had to meet this way. You can visit my blog at . May your itchiness subside along with mine as well. I think this country has tons of them...just look at all the dogs around! Here's what one of the native Chilean directors in my program told me to look for/do: (who knows if it works)
    # You can get something over the counter at the pharmacy, it is called LORATADINA it is an antihistamine that should get with the itching and allergy. You should just take one at night before going to bed. PLEASE MAKE SURE TO READ THE CHEMICAL INGREDIENTS TO MAKE SURE YOU ARE NOT ALLERGIC TO THE MEDICATION.
    # a home remedy for the itching of the bites, you should get the bite a little damp with water and rub some salt on top, it will help with the swelling and itching.

  6. How embarrassing thats what people google to get to my blog hahaha!

    The earthquake shaking the fleas to life sounds like a crazy myth but it is true that vibrations and such can kinda jolt the fleas to life.

    My flea bites come and go in waves that have no relation whatsoever to my cleaning, the medicine I give my cat, etc... So perhaps next time I'm fed up I'll try your suggestions!! Thanks.

    Yeah even benadryl doesnt work on my bites, I'll have to try the damp water with salt because right now my main strategy is just "scratch like crazy!"

    I'll check out your blog. I hope you like teaching there!

  7. Wow. I didn't mean so soon, but apparently my shoulder was viciously attacked earlier today and I started being majorly bothered by about 15 bites just a few minutes ago. Having just read this post I decided to test out the theory to stop the itch and SALT IS AMAZING!!!! Where have you and your miracle drug advice been my whole life?

    Benadryl should abandon their old chemical makeup and market salt!

    Well its only been a pair of minutes so far but the effect was so instant I'm amazed... and aware I sound like a fanatic on an infomercial or something!!!

  8. Hi, have you tried Mentholatum? I have a friend who used to live near Viña and had the same problem with fleas. She swears by that stuff and says it's the only thing she found that alleviated the itching.

  9. Spot on with this article, I really think this website needs more attention. I'll probably be back to read more, thanks for the info.
    flea bites