What Are Flea Bites?

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Fleas are parasitic insects that feed on the blood of mammals and birds. When a human has flea bites, they appear as itchy bumps, often in groups of three.

Fleas are known for their leaping capabilities. They can jump more than 100 times their body length, making them resilient and pervasive in their ability to leap from host to host.

This article discusses flea bites, how to identify them, and treatment options.

Woman scratching her arm


Flea Bites Causes

Fleas predominantly live on and feed off of animals. Most commonly, flea bites on humans occur because pets bring fleas indoors to areas where humans share space with animals.

To reduce the likelihood of your pet bringing fleas indoors, try the following:

  • Limiting pets' time outside
  • Bathing and grooming pets regularly
  • Using veterinarian-prescribed flea prevention
  • Treating infestations right away

Vacuuming regularly and washing bedding in warm, soapy water are good ways to prevent fleas in the home. In addition, you can limit your exposure outside by wearing insect repellant, long sleeves, and pants and taking precautions when handling stray or wild animals.

Can Fleas Live in Your Bed?

Yes, fleas can live in your bed. While adult fleas bite animals and humans for food, larva feed on debris, like that found in bedding and carpet. Adult fleas tend to lay eggs in these places, so their offspring have plenty of food when they hatch.

How to Identify Flea Bites

Flea bites have several distinguishing features, including:

  • Itchy, small bumps
  • Bites often arranged in a pattern of three
  • Usually occur on feet and lower legs
  • Sometimes induces urticaria (hives)

Fleas are tiny and often hard to see. However, you can usually determine flea bites based on the symptoms. If you notice your pet excessively scratching or biting their skin, losing patches of fur, or scabs on their skin, they could have fleas.

Complications From Flea Bites

Flea bites are usually not a significant health concern. However, they can result in certain complications, including infection, disease, and allergic reactions.


Any time your skin endures an injury, including flea bites, there is a risk of infection. Infection from a flea bite usually occurs from scratching the itchy welts. That's because bacteria from your fingernail can enter the sores when you scratch the flea bites.

Signs of infection include:

  • Skin redness
  • Pain
  • Skin that is warm to the touch
  • Swelling

It's difficult not to scratch an itch, but it's best to leave flea bites alone to limit the chances of infection. You can further reduce your risk of infection by keeping flea bites clean and washing your hands frequently.


Fleas also carry pathogens that can cause human disease. These diseases include:

  • Plague: Spreads to humans through infected fleas, most common in rural western United States.
  • Flea-borne typhus: Spreads to humans through infected fleas and is most common in California, Texas, and Hawaii.
  • Cat-scratch disease: It's transmitted to humans when a cat infected by a flea scratches them.
  • Tapeworms: It's spread through fleas when humans accidentally swallow a flea, most common in young children who play on the floor.

Allergic Reaction

Some people can have an allergic reaction to flea bites. Flea allergy dermatitis is a skin condition that can occur in people hypersensitive to flea saliva, feces, or exoskeletons. Symptoms include:

  • Hives
  • Skin scaling or hardening
  • Skin discoloration

Symptoms most often occur on the hands and feet but can affect the entire body. Flea allergy can also cause respiratory allergy symptoms, especially in those with a cat allergy.

Flea Bite Treatment

The best way to get rid of flea bites is to eliminate fleas and larvae from your pets and living space. Doing so will prevent you from having to deal with ongoing flea bites. To eliminate fleas, try the following:

  1. Thoroughly cleaning bedding, rugs, and floors consistently.
  2. Bathe pets and use a flea comb to remove fleas (a veterinarian can help).
  3. Treat the exterior of your home with a pest control product (talk to a pest control professional).
  4. Repeat the process twice, five to 10 days apart, to catch fleas in all stages of their life cycle.

In addition to eliminating fleas from your home, treat active flea bites with an oral antihistamine to reduce the itch. Further, topical treatments, like antihistamine and antibacterial ointments, oatmeal baths, and avoiding hot water, can also help.


Flea bites are small, itchy welts that often occur in patterns of three. Humans usually encounter flea bites from pets, who carry the insects inside. In humans, flea bites most often affect the feet and lower legs, but they can happen anywhere on the body. Flea bites can lead to infection, disease, and allergic reactions. The best way to handle flea bites is to avoid scratching and eliminate fleas from your pets and home.

A Word From Verywell

You may feel embarrassed if you've noticed flea bites on yourself or your child. While there is a stigma involved in certain insect bites, there is nothing to be ashamed of. They are pretty common, especially if you have pets. Talk to your veterinarian about flea control. In the meantime, try throwing some socks over your hands while you sleep if you find yourself scratching at night.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. Flea bites.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preventing flea bites.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preventing fleas on your pets.

  4. American Kennel Club. What do flea bites look like on dogs?

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Skin infections.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fleaborne diseases of the United States.

  7. Mullen GR, Durden LA, King J. Chapter 10 - Fleas (Siphonaptera). In: Medical and Veterinary Entomology. London: Academic Press, an imprint of Elsevier.

  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Getting rid of fleas.

By Kathi Valeii
As a freelance writer, Kathi has experience writing both reported features and essays for national publications on the topics of healthcare, advocacy, and education. The bulk of her work centers on parenting, education, health, and social justice.