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Sand fleas are bloodsucking parasites that are mainly found in beaches, and near water bodies, like lakes and streams. Mostly found in tropical regions, these fleas (Sarcopsylla penetrans, Pulex penetrans, or Tunga penetrans) are also known as jigger, pico, chigoe flea, and pigue. They are very small arthropods with a body length of around one millimeter. Sand fleas have shrimp-like bodies, without wings. They have specialized mouth parts to suck blood. Sand fleas feed on rotting plant matter, especially, sea weeds that are washed ashore. Being parasitic, they feed on the blood of mammals, including humans.
Sand Flea Bites
Sand fleas are often found in beaches located in some of the tropical regions, especially, some parts of West Indies and South and Central America. They have waxy bodies, and their body color may range between pale white to brownish hues. These fleas have seven body segments, and long legs that are used for swimming as well as jumping. Being bad jumpers, they cannot reach more than a height of 20 to 40 centimeters in a single jump.
So, the body parts that are prone to sand flea bites are the feet, ankles and legs. It has been observed that these fleas are active during evening, night and dawn. So, the risk of sand flea bites increases during these times. These fleas inject their saliva into the host, so as to hinder blood clotting, while they feed on it. The body of the host may react to the saliva, and develop symptoms. The treatment may vary with the type of bite and the symptoms.
Types: Sand flea bites can be classified into two types. One is like mosquito bites, where the flea bites the person, sucks blood and moves on to the next host. Another type is the bites caused by breeding females. They burrow into the human skin and stay there for around three weeks, till they lay eggs. Meanwhile, the site will get swollen, and gradually form a mount with a black spot in the center. In both cases, the symptoms include, pain, itching and severe discomfort. If the person is allergic to insect bites, severe allergic reactions may also be experienced.
However, if the flea has burrowed into the skin, the affected person may sometimes develop fever and secondary infections too. The symptoms may not be the same for all. They may vary with the location and type of bite. Symptoms caused by male sand flea bites may subside without any treatment. However, breeding females may burrow the skin and settle inside, and cause a condition called tungiasis. The condition is characterized by inflammation, pain and itching.
How to Treat Sand Flea Bites
As mentioned above, sand flea bite symptoms may vary with the type of bite. In normal bites, the victim may suffer from pain, itching and discomfort in the location of bite. These symptoms may subside without any treatment. However, application of calamine lotion, 1% hydrocortisone cream and aloe vera gel, may provide relief from the symptoms. Even antihistamines can be used, as per the advice of your doctor. If the flea has burrowed into the skin, you should not scratch the area or try to take out the flea.
Even though complications are very rare, it is always better to seek medical attention to remove sand fleas on humans as well as pets. In such cases, sand flea bite treatment includes application of antiparasitic drugs and petrolatum. The doctor may remove the flea with forceps or through cryotherapy. Sometimes, the flea has to be removed through a minor surgery. While antiparasitic drugs can kill the flea inside the skin, petrolatum is applied over the area, so as to suffocate and kill the flea. In case of cryotherapy, the nodule formed by the flea is frozen with liquid nitrogen. Removal of flea from the nodule is normally done using forceps; but, in some rare cases, it has to be removed using a curette, through a minor surgery. Once the embedded flea is removed, the wound may be treated with antibiotics, so that secondary infections can be prevented. Even tetanus injections may be administered to the patient at this time.
In short, sand flea bite treatment may not be required for regular bites, but seek medical attention; if you develop nodules, blisters and swelling. Sand flea bites can be prevented by wearing shoes and fully covered clothes, during your visits to beaches and other areas with water bodies, particularly in tropical regions, where sand fleas are commonly found.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice. Visiting your physician is the safest way to diagnose and treat any health condition.