A parasite is an organism that lives on and feeds off of the body of another organism called the “host.” Parasites of man can also be found on other animals, and can be transferred from one to another. An external parasite is usually found on the skin or hair, and in bedding material. Some of the most common parasites of man are the Human Flea, Cat Flea, Dog Flea, Rabbit Flea, Bird Flea, Mole Flea, Bed Bug, Body Louse, Crab Louse, and Mite.
Pulex irritans, the Human Flea, can also be found on other mammals, both domesticated and wild, and on certain species of birds. Human fleas are small, brownish-black, wingless, jumping blood-suckers. They can migrate from host to host and spread disease.
More common are the Cat Flea and the Dog Flea. Ctenocephalides felis and Ctenocephalides canis are two of the most prolific species of fleas known to man. Of the two, the cat flea is the one most likely to bite a human. The bite can cause skin irritation, and can transmit disease to the host. A severe infestation can cause dehydration, and possibly, anemia to the host.
The Rabbit Flea, Spilopsyllus cuniculi, is common to wild rabbits, but can also be found on domesticated rabbits. They are usually located in and around the ears of the host. They have been known to bite hikers and others who spend time in wooded areas. They can transmit diseases such as myxomatosis.
Ceratophyllus gallinae and Dasyphyllus gallinulae better know as the Bird Flea, reside in the nesting areas of birds, and only travel to the host to feed. They can be inadvertently carried by the host to other areas, but can only reproduce while in a nest. They can transmit disease to the host.
The Mole Flea, or Hystrichopsylla talpae, can be up to three times larger than the more common Cat Dog Flea. Its preferred habitat is underground in the burrows and tunnels of moles, shrews, and mice.
The Bed Bug, Cimex lectularius, spends most of its life in hiding, and only emerges when searching out a food source. They prefer a warm, dry climate, and can be found in a wide variety of structures from bird nesting boxes to hotels. They are easily transported to other locations by various means. Extermination usually requires the help of a professional.
The Body Louse, or Pediculus humanus corporis, live mainly in clothing, and venture to the host only to feed. They can transmit disease. Proper hygiene, frequent washing of clothing, and sanitary living conditions can help to prevent an infestation.
The Crab Louse, Phthirius pubis, as its name implies, lives mainly in the pubic region of humans. They can also be found on the hairs of the head, arm pit, and eyebrow. They are most commonly transmitted via intimate contact with an infected person. Treatment involves the use of an insecticide applied to the affected area. Thorough washing of clothing and bedding with either hot water or an insecticide will usually treat the infestation.
There are several types of Mites. Dermatophagoides spp, the bed or dust mite feeds on the dead skin that falls from our bodies. Mites do not directly transmit disease, but they can cause mild to severe allergic reactions in humans. Good house-keeping practices will keep their populations under control.