Fleas and bed bugs are two common household pests that can cause discomfort and health problems for both humans and pets. As small insects, fleas and bed bugs survive by feeding on animal or human blood. While they share some similarities, it’s essential to understand their differences to effectively tackle and prevent infestations.
Fleas are known to predominantly infest animals, causing discomfort and itchiness. They can also transmit diseases such as flea-borne typhus, plague, or cat scratch disease (CDC). In contrast, bed bugs feed on human blood, typically while they sleep, and are characterized by their reddish-brown color and flat shape (CDC). Though a nuisance, bed bugs do not transmit diseases.
Effective pest control measures differ for fleas and bed bugs. To prevent fleas, regular cleaning of carpets, rugs, upholstery, and pet bedding is essential (CDC). In the case of bed bugs, regular inspection of mattresses, furniture, and clutter is crucial to detect early signs of infestations.
Fleas vs Bed Bugs: Understanding the Differences
Appearance and Size
- Oval-shaped and about 2-3 mm long
- Have long legs designed for jumping
- Flat, wingless insects
- Slightly larger, ranging from 1mm to 7mm
- Fleas are similar in size to a pinhead, while bed bugs could be as big as Lincoln’s head on a penny.
Color and Movement
- Fleas: reddish-brown, can jump up to 13 inches.
- Bed Bugs: reddish-brown, but cannot jump and only crawl.
|Movement||Can jump up to 13 inches||Can only crawl|
- Typically found on pets, like cats and dogs
- Also in carpets, pet bedding, and upholstered furniture
- Prefer human hosts
- Commonly found near beds, such as bed frame joints and box spring seams
- Primarily feed on blood of mammals (pets and sometimes humans)
- May cause itching, discomfort, and even diseases
- Feed solely on blood of humans and animals while they sleep
- Cause red, itchy bites but do not transmit diseases
Pros and Cons of each insect (in terms of their impact on humans):
- Pros: None
- Cons: Itching, discomfort, diseases
- Pros: Do not transmit diseases
- Cons: Itchy bites, property loss, inconvenience
Recognizing Bed Bug Bites and Flea Bites
Location and Pattern
- Bed bug bites:
- Typically found on arms, legs, face, and neck.
- Often appear in a straight line or cluster.
- Flea bites:
- Commonly located on lower legs and feet.
- Tend to be random in pattern.
Example: You may find three bed bug bites in a row on your arm, whereas flea bites may be scattered randomly on your ankles and lower legs.
- Bed bug bites:
- Reddish-brown in color with a dark red center.
- Mild to severe itching, possibly leading to blisters or a rash.
- Swelling may occur around the bite area.
- Flea bites:
- Similar reddish-brown color but smaller in size.
- Intense itching, often followed by a rash or hives.
- Bites may become swollen and sore.
Antihistamines can help alleviate itching and swelling from both bed bug and flea bites as a short-term relief.
|Feature||Bed Bug Bites||Flea Bites|
|Location||Arms, legs, face, and neck||Lower legs and feet|
|Pattern||Straight line or cluster||Random|
|Symptoms||Itching, rash, blisters||Itching, rash, hives, swelling|
|Treatment||Antihistamines (short-term)||Antihistamines (short-term)|
Complications and Allergic Reactions
Infections and Allergies
Fleas and bed bugs can cause different complications, such as skin infections and allergic reactions. For instance, flea bites can lead to flea-borne typhus and bed bug bites can cause allergic reactions.
Here’s a comparison table to understand their differences better:
|Cause itchiness and irritation||Less irritating than flea bites|
|Can transmit diseases like flea-borne typhus||Do not transmit diseases|
|May lead to secondary skin infections||Rarely cause skin infections|
To reduce the itchiness and discomfort of bites, you may use:
- Calamine lotion: helps soothe the skin
- Anti-itch cream: reduces itching and inflammation
When to Seek Medical Attention
There are times when it’s necessary to consult a doctor:
- Skin infection signs: redness, swelling, or pus around the bite
- Severe allergic reaction: hives, difficulty breathing, or dizziness
In these situations, contact your doctor for appropriate treatment and advice.
Preventing and Treating Infestations
Bed Bug Control
To prevent bed bug infestations, regularly inspect your home for signs of infestation, especially in the ribbing of mattress corners. Keep your home clean and clutter-free to reduce hiding spots. Steps to control bed bugs include:
- Launder sheets and bedding in hot water and dry at high temperatures.
- Vacuum your home regularly, focusing on carpets, rugs, and upholstered furniture.
- Place mattress and box springs in bed bug-proof encasements.
- Seal cracks and crevices in walls and baseboards.
Fleas often infest homes due to pets. To prevent flea infestations, consider the following steps:
- Vacuum carpets, rugs, and cushions regularly, then empty the vacuum bag outside.
- Wash pet bedding frequently using soap and water.
- Treat pets with veterinarian-approved flea control products.
Sometimes, despite prevention efforts, infestations occur.
In some cases, professional treatment may be necessary for both bed bug and flea infestations. Pest control professionals can provide tailored solutions based on the level of infestation and the materials present in your home.
|Signs||• Visible bugs
• Tiny black or brown bug droppings
• Small reddish stains
|• Bites on pets or humans
• Black specks on bedding or carpets
|Control Methods||• Cleaning
• Laundering in high temperatures
• Washing pet bedding
• Flea control products for pets
Both bed bug and flea infestations require consistent effort to control and may need professional pest control services to fully eradicate the problem.
Keeping Pets Safe and Pest-Free
When it comes to protecting pets like cats and dogs from fleas and bed bugs, there are specific treatments available. For example:
- Flea preventatives: Flea medication to deter fleas from biting pets.
- Flea comb: Gently remove fleas from pets’ fur with a flea comb.
It’s important to consult with a veterinarian for proper guidance on using these treatments.
|Flea preventatives||Protects pets||Needs veterinarian guidance|
|Flea comb||Gentle, non-invasive||Time-consuming, only addresses adult fleas|
Protecting Your Pet’s Environment
Creating a pest-free environment for pets and humans is a long-term solution. Here are some quick tips:
- Vacuum often: Clean carpets, rugs, and cushions to remove fleas and their eggs.
- Clean bedding: Wash pet and human bedding regularly with soap and water.
- Outdoor areas: Ensure your yard is clean, tidy, and free from debris.
Keep in mind, both fleas and bed bugs can impact the comfort and health of pets and humans. Taking steps to maintain a clean and pest-free environment will help keep everyone safe and itch-free.
Diseases and Health Concerns Associated with Fleas and Bed Bugs
Diseases Transmitted by Fleas
Fleas are tiny insects that feed on blood and can transmit various diseases to humans and animals. Here are some common diseases associated with flea bites:
- Flea-borne typhus: This disease is transmitted to humans by infected cat fleas or Oriental rat fleas and their feces (source). Commonly reported in California, Texas, and Hawaii.
- Plague: Fleas can also transmit the Yersinia pestis bacterium, causing the plague, a potentially fatal infection.
- Cat scratch disease (CSD): Usually caused by bites or scratches from infected cats, but fleas can also carry the bacteria responsible for CSD (source).
|Flea-borne typhus||Fever, headache, joint/muscle pain||Antibiotics|
|Plague||Fever, weakness, swollen lymph nodes||Antibiotics|
|Cat scratch disease||Fever, swollen lymph nodes, fatigue||Antibiotics, if needed|
Health Risks from Bed Bugs
Although bed bugs feed on human blood, they do not transmit diseases like fleas. Their bites cause itchiness and discomfort and may lead to secondary infections if scratched.
However, bed bug infestations can have negative effects on mental health, causing stress, anxiety, and sleep disturbances.
- Reddish, swollen bumps
- Itchiness and inflammation around the bite
- Clustered or linear patterns
- Tiny dark spots on beddings
- Molten skins from nymphs
- Fecal spots on mattresses and nearby areas
In conclusion, both fleas and bed bugs cause problems for humans, but fleas are linked to more serious diseases. Recognizing the signs of infestations and bites is important for proper prevention and treatment.
Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.
Letter 1 – Fleas
Subject: What’s this bug?
Location: Houston TX
April 18, 2016 8:11 am
Found in my bathtub jumping around after a large rain storm. There were quite a few in there, it’s the only place in the house I have seen them.
You have Fleas.
Update: It is quite possible there are many more Fleas present than you have seen, and only when they jumped into the bathtub and couldn’t jump out that you noticed them.
Letter 2 – Flea
Subject: What type of bug is it?
Location: Sunnyvale california
February 18, 2015 12:29 am
I recently moved into an apartment in California. Over the last 5 days I have seen 5 of these bugs. 2 on my bathroom floor, 1 in my bathtub, and 2 in my bed.
I’m hoping it’s just springtails and not fleas, but I was hoping you could confirm that for me. When I get close to these bugs they jump 3-4 inches off the ground to a different location, and when I squish them it looks like blood comes out.
I don’t have any pets, no itchy red bumps, I’m a pretty clean person overall.
Let me know what you think.
The laterally compressed body and the jumping you describe both indicate that this is a Flea. Perhaps the previous tenant had pets.
Letter 3 – Flea
Subject: Flea or something similar
Location: Washington state
August 9, 2015 11:47 am
hello. Over the course of the last week we have noticed something both in our house and outside. I first realized I had some small itchy bites around my ankles. I then saw a bug up in my bathroom. I was able to catch it and kill it. I tried to squish it under toilet paper with my nail, took a photo and noticed it was still wiggling. I continued to try and squish it and it took a long time. We have since noticed more bugs and bites. We live in Washington state and have an outdoor deck and live next to a small storm water retention pond (but it is dry this time of year). We first found them inside and just yesterday went to sit on our deck on a outdoor couch and noticed a swarm of the bugs on our ankles and legs. Both my husband and I have bites and we found one in our baby’s hair this morning. We did have raccoons under our deck a month ago, but they were driven out by coyote scent that was planted. They are now gone.
The bug…it looks like a flea, see pics.
Looking forward to your response.
Signature: Bugs of Wa
This is definitely a Flea and it might be connected to the raccoons you had under the deck.
Letter 4 – Flea
Subject: What is this Jumping/Flying big
Geographic location of the bug: My Bed
Your letter to the bugman —
I am getting itchy red bites all over my body. Legs, thigh, stomach, Arms, Hands, lower back. I found small jumping or flying bugs. They are tiny and look like a spec of dirt. Is this a flea or a bedbug or something else?
How you want your letter signed —
Between your description and the blurry image you submitted, we are quite certain you are getting bitten by Fleas. Do you have a pet that sleeps on the bed with you? You should consider flea treatment for your pet.
Letter 5 – Flea we believe
Location: calgary, Alberta, Canada
February 2, 2014 11:35 pm
Hi, a few weeks ago I had three itchy spots on my hip, a week after I had an itchy bite in between my fingers. Tonight I am laying in bed and feel a tickle on my finger, sure enough there is a big crawling on me. I moved it to my end table and snapped a few pictures. It moved quickly, was only about 3 to 4 mm. It did not appear to have wings, have a pointed back (not flat). It then jumped(?) or possibly fell off my side table and I have not found it since.
I live in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, it is currently January and pretty cold outside (-15ish). I have checked my mattress and haven’t found any other bugs.
Do you have a pet dog or cat? Your photo is blurry, but this looks suspiciously like a Flea to us. The size and behavior you described would support our identification.
I have a cat and a dog. I have checked them both neither have fleas.
What is the livelihood I have one lone flea hanging around my house that keeps biting me?
We can’t really speculate on the likelihood of a single Flea, but your photos do look like a Flea. See BugGuide for additional images.
Letter 6 – Flea in North Ireland
Subject: Ate Alive
Location: Northern Ireland
April 19, 2015 4:04 pm
Hi I’ve been getting ate alive for the past month. Only me not my partner. I’ve tried hoovering my house from top to bottom I’ve tried endless amounts of flea spray but I’m still finding these bugs just walking up my arm/legs and biting me. When I squeeze them to kill them they just keep walking you have to squeeze then about 4 times to kill them . They don’t even go on my boyfriend just me. Please help me get rid off these.
Signature: Thanks Christine
This is definitely a Flea, and we suspect perhaps you have a pet that goes outdoors and that might be the source of your indoor infestation. We do not provide extermination advice, but now that you know what you have, we imagine you will be able to find online sources that provide suggestions for your problem.
Thankyou for your help. We have flea sprayed the house 3 times from top to bottom and it hasn’t help. Today I’ve just found 3 on the outside bathroom window (upstairs) so they must be getting in the window As we don’t have any pets, we have contacted pest control and they are going to come help us. Thanks again Christine.