Fleas in Human Hair

Got an itchy scalp and found a little bug in your hair?  Worried you might have fleas living in your hair?  The good news is, it’s unlikely that you have fleas; unlikely, but not impossible.

This post is about:

  • Fleas that live on humans
  • Other parasites that live in hair

What Fleas Look Like

An adult flea

All species of fleas look pretty much alike.  The adults are a dark colour, anywhere from brown to reddish brown.  They are small, around 1/8 inch long, which means that although small, they are clearly visible to the human eye.  Fleas don’t have wings; they can’t fly away from you, but they can jump a good distance which makes them hard to catch.
So, if the insect you find in your hair flies away, it is not a flea.  If you are able to catch it and it makes no attempt to jump, it is unlikely to be a flea.   If it is pale, it is probably not a flea.

Fleas Found on Humans

Pet Fleas

There are many different species of fleas.  In most domestic situations we come across only two: the dog flea ( Ctenocephalides canis) and the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis).  Neither of these two species will live on a human.  That doesn’t mean that you might not find one or two on you occasionally if you have pets, or that they won’t bite you.  What they won’t do is set up home on you.  Your pet is a much more attractive host because the flea is designed to live on them.

If you are waking up with bites, or scratching in bed and finding bugs in your hair, you might consider whether you have fleas in the bed.  This is particularly likely if your pet is allowed into your bedroom, although fleas will hitch a ride on our clothing.

Not sure if those bites you wake up with are flea bites?  Check out the post about the difference between bed bug bites and flea bites.

Human Fleas

Humans do have their very own species of flea.  The human flea is pulex irritans.  As its name suggests, this flea will live on humans, although it can also live on other hosts too.  In fact, these days you are more likely to find the human flea living on pigs that on humans.  For this reason, the people most likely to suffer with human fleas are those who work closely with swine.  However, modern hygiene ensures that generally humans are not likely to be troubled by pulex irritans.

Human fleas look pretty much the same as dog and cat fleas.  They can be marginally larger, but the only way to tell is by examining their mouth parts, which are slightly different, under a microscope.

Treatment for Human Fleas

In the unlikely event that you did have human fleas, you would need to follow the same systematic method of getting rid of them as you would for a pet:  treat the fleas living on your body and around the home.  In the case of human fleas you would need to launder your clothes and bedding at high temperatures as well as hoovering around your home.

Find out why it is essential that you treat your home – if you don’t, you won’t get rid of fleas!

Never treat yourself or your family with flea control treatments for pets!  Consult your doctor or use a flea comb in a bath of soapy water. [break]

Head Lice

The likelihood is that the bugs in your hair are head lice.  Head lice are endemic across the world and they are surprisingly easy to catch.  It only takes a few seconds of hair-to-hair contact for a head louse to crawl into your hair and they multiply quickly.

An adult head louse; note that is is a different shape from a flea

Head lice differ from fleas in appearance.  Often they are described as being crab-shaped.  They are around the size of a sesame seed and vary in colour from grey to brown (they seem to blend in with the colour of the hair).  You may not see the lice immediately, not until there is a severe infestation.  Often it is their empty egg cases (“nits”) that are more noticeable, stuck to the hair shaft.  These nits look like dandruff, but you can’t brush them away.

Head lice don’t jump like fleas, nor can they fly.  They tend to be easier to catch between your fingers than fleas.

Getting Rid of Head Lice

Whilst it is unpleasant to have head lice, the good news is that unlike fleas head lice remain in one place:  on you.  Fleas can infest a house, but head lice won’t.  This means that you only have to treat yourself, which takes some time, but is relatively easy.

You need a nit comb and some tea tree oil conditioner.

  • Wash your hair, apply a generous amount of tea tree oil conditioner.
  • Leaving the conditioner on your hair, comb through methodically with the nit comb.  Dispose of any lice in a bowl of water.
  • Wash out the conditioner.
  • Repeat every couple of days for a couple of weeks.

Summary

  • Pet fleas can get into your hair and may bite you.  They won’t live in your hair.
  • Human fleas can live in your hair, but they are relatively uncommon.
  • Head lice are very common.  Consider head lice as the most likely bug to find in your hair.

 

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