Can one flea cause an infestation? (clothing transfer)

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QuestionsCategory: Flea InfestationsCan one flea cause an infestation? (clothing transfer)
dchue asked 1 month ago

Hello Adam,
First, thank you for doing so much research and compiling your findings in this awesome site!
I’m wondering if one flea can cause an infestation. I’m currently dealing with fleas. I put on freshly laundered clothes this morning but noticed one flea on my sock right before I left my place. I thought I brushed it off, but can’t be sure if it went into the fabric. What are the odds I would transfer this flea live to my partner’s place later tonight (they have cats)? Would I feel the flea crawling around under my clothes? Would it cling to my clothing somewhere in waiting? If this flea did survive all the way to my partner’s place, could it cause an infestation?
Thank you!
DH

1 Answers
Best Answer
Adam Retzer Staff answered 4 weeks ago

DH,

The odds are slim that one flea will cause an infestation. It would need to be a female. And before females can lay eggs, they must feed on a host for at least 24 hours. And before they can lay fertile eggs, they need to mate with a male on the host.

Thus, for the flea to be able to start a new infestation, it would need to have come off of an infested host and then somehow got onto your sock. This is highly unlikely. Once adult fleas are on their preferred animal host, they will stay there. It’s extremely rare for them to leave of their own volition. And when fleas are groomed off their host, they are usually severely damaged.

So, that flea that you found on your sock likely just emerged from its cocoon in the environment, and was looking for a suitable host. It hadn’t fed yet or mated. Thus, even if it was a female, it wouldn’t be able to lay viable eggs.

It’s possible for fleas to hide in clothing you are wearing. Usually this happens when they feed on a person and then can’t find a way off. However, they prefer to leave immediately after feeding on humans. I’m not sure if you would feel it crawling around or not. I imagine you would.

Hope this helps!
Adam

dchue replied 4 weeks ago

You are a godsend! Follow-up question: “they need to mate with a male on the host” does this mean females can’t mate with males anywhere else except for on the host? Not even on the ground?

Adam Retzer Staff replied 3 weeks ago

That’s correct. They only mate on the host (perhaps in extremely rare circumstances they may be able to mate off-host).

Neither sex can mate until after they’ve fed on blood for about 24 hours. Feeding dissolves a testicular plug in the males, and triggers ovary maturation in females. So they must be on a host to feed, and once on a host they stay there.

dchue replied 1 week ago

Great to know! According to your articles, a flea in average household conditions cannot survive on human blood. So even if I’m still getting some bites, the adult fleas will eventually die off? Thank you!

Adam Retzer Staff replied 1 week ago

That is most likely true. Cat fleas (C. felis) make up nearly all domestic flea infestations. Dog fleas (C. canis) are the second most common. These species can’t survive or reproduce on human blood.

Human fleas (P. irritans) can survive and reproduce on human blood. However, this is a fairly rare species. If you want to ensure you aren’t dealing with human fleas, please see my answer to this question, where I described how to identify species.

dchue replied 1 week ago

Awesome, thank you for your quick response!! One last question… I keep getting some bites on my chest/neck. They look like flea bites, but they don’t itch, or barely itch. When I first got flea bites on my legs, they itched like crazy! Is it common to become “immune” to bites/itching after just a few weeks of exposure? Thank you!!

dchue replied 1 week ago

(p.s. one of your articles describes an itchy “papule” forming 24hrs after the bite, but that doesn’t seem to happen with these bumps)

Adam Retzer Staff replied 1 week ago

I don’t think it is possible to become immune to flea bites after such a short exposure time. Immunity in humans is rare, even after years of near constant exposure.

Those skin reactions may not be flea bites, especially because they are so high up on your body. Fleas can only jump to the height of a human ankle, and they bite immediately upon finding exposed skin. Usually bites only occur higher on the body when the person sits or lays on the floor, or on a bed shared by an infested pet.

dchue replied 6 days ago

Thank you again, Adam. I should stop saying “one last question” because there’s always another question!! Is it possible for a person, during the same flea infestation, to have a reaction to some bites and not others? I have a few new bites that itch, with an obvious central red puncture mark, leading me to believe those other papules weren’t bites—unless, I can be reacting to only some of the bites, and not others?

Adam Retzer Staff replied 5 days ago

Good question. My first inclination is to say no. All the bites should react the same, as your body’s immune response (sensitization) should be consistent. However, in highly allergic individuals, lesions can arise that aren’t the flea bites themselves but a systemic allergic reaction. This is most common with animals that have FAD (flea allergy dermatis). This isn’t the common immune response though.

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