First, I want to remind folks about my publishing standards. Specifically the part where I want to keep all discussion here about how to live organic or better. Preferably better. I don't even want to compare toxic gick solutions anymore. Those discussions can be done on other forums.
One of the authors did have some bits of rather profound information to share, so I will convey "the best of":
I found the article looking for the efficacy of diatomaceous earth on flea pupae who live in a most difficult state. They're like little time bombs, ready to "explode" after lying dormant in their cocoons for potentially many months. This means they can be in hiding all winter when the home is cool and dry, then erupt when warm/moist weather comes in. I could not figure out how, on the second floor, with two indoor cats, I managed to get a flea infestation as bad as mine has been. Answer: I brought the pupae here when I moved back in November.
Last week, I went into a little used bedroom. For a while, the cats had been hanging in there, but when they came out, I decided to shut the door. I knew I had a slight flea problem in the rest of the house - nothing major [...] but this particular room was actually 1000x worse than the rest of the home put together. When I walked into that room after at least a week or two of not stepping in there, I immediately had at least 50 fleas on each leg. I don't know if a sudden wave of hot humid weather had already encouraged the pupae to emerge as biting adults, or if my presence in the room brought them out. Or, perhaps it was a combination of both.
The point is that while you have to treat your pets and home to kill adults, eggs and larvae - the pupae are hardest to kill. Continuous vacuuming during an infestation is really important. When entering a room with dormant pupae, the presence of your warm body and the disturbance caused by the vacuum cleaner can make adults emerge from their cocoons in a matter of seconds. These fleas are relatively small, compared to a biting adult. Have a pointy nozzle ready to suck 'em up as they pop out until they stop popping out. I have a bagless vac, and I take the canister outside and dump it into a pail of water, making sure any living fleas are drowned.
Additionally, I have to wash absolutely all linens and clothing from that room - and there are a LOT. All these clothes will be stored up high, wrapped tightly in plastic bags to prevent reinfestation. They will not be put in on beds or in low areas until a week goes by without any fleas showing up in the vacuum. After I'm sure the flea problem is gone, I will still vacuum quite regularly to diminish the pupae population as much as possible
Vacuum vacuum vacuum! Frequently clean areas used by pets, wash their bedding, vacuum every inch of your furniture - every day during the worst infestations, then 2-3x per week for a while, then regularly enough that dormant pupae don't stand a chance
The little used room still has plenty of food to keep fleas alive and breeding. The vacuum is your best friend and you have to do it repeatedly. For a while, you'll enter the room and see fleas jump around. These fleas probably JUST came out of the pupae stage, instantaneously, just because you walked in. This is good. You can suck them up before they breed and get them out of the house. After repeated vacuuming, you'll see fewer and fewer. Unfortunately, there's no rest for the weary, you gotta keep it up, even after you're sure there are no adult fleas living in your home. There may still be pupae, which can sit in waiting for months, looking for a great opportunity to reinfest
Cal Burns wrote:We just moved to a property with several acres where deer and squirrels roam. Have had a huge problem with fleas the past several weeks. Keep our dog on a leash now when we take him out. Have applied DE to him and the indoor cat every day for weeks. Dog still have 15-20 a day we take off him. There is a bedroom we rarely go in that has them as well. Have spread DE and left in there a week then vaccuumed. Still had them. The DE doesn't seem to be making a big difference.
Think part of the problem is the amount of rain we have gotten this year.
The Comfortis product sounds good but is expensive at $200 for 6 mths. worth for 2 animals, plus the vet visits. Getting an electric fence to keep out the deer. Going to try essential oils and lavender next on the dog.
Let's focus on the room for a moment. First, consider that the lifecycle of a flea is 4 weeks at the shortest. Plus they can pupate for nearly a year. So if you leave a room for a week with DE on the ground, the fleas will just sit around and wait for food to come by. Many of the fleas will still be sitting in their eggs waiting for time to pass.
When you have a flea problem, the first step is to quickly get rid of 95%. The second step is to come up with a plan to get rid of them permanently. You must wrap your head around the lifecycle to get permanent results. And with pets in the house, they are going to keep bringing fleas into the house forever.
Any other advice for homes with hardwood floors? I will start setting traps as soon as I buy a desk lamp. Thanks for this article. My dogs are really ready for me to win the war on fleas!
I have another question about DE effects on dogs. My beagle is allergic to flea bites and has sensitive skin. Is DE irritating to dogs' skin? Do have any advice for soothing his skin?
Lots and lots of people put DE in the animal fur. It is not a complete solution, but it does help.
If your animals are going in and out, then they are finding all new fleas outdoors and bringing them inside over and over and over. Several people here have had great success with different sorts of doggie treats. But this is something I have not researched or tried.
In regard to the problems Judy Hatfield was having. I used to work for a manufacturer of agricultural chemicals. As such I was around Bifenthrin, another pyrethroid derivatve. Occasionally someone would get exposed to some of the chemicals. For the Bifenthrin, the effect was tingling of the exposed area for a couple of days. But, it took a significant amount. A little splashed and wiped off didn't cause a reaction. I never heard of anyone having respiratory reactions, although we inhaled enough of it. The point is, I doubt Judy's problem was due to the pyrethroids. It is my guess that the problem was the boric acid (as listed in the MSDS) or perhaps the illegally applied chemical contained solvents or surfactants that were not listed for home use. Some of them are a more serious problem the active ingredient. Unfortunately, since we don't know the product applied, we cannot reference the MSDS and find the answer. With that information, there may have been a specific remedy that would have solved the problem economically. There is a reason pesticide applicators are licensed and regulated.
We got everything off of the carpet and vacuumed. My husband used a shaker and his hands to spread the DE all over and we used a condiment bottle (new from the dollar store) to get plenty around the baseboards.
My question is, should I be vacuuming daily or do I wait a few days for the fleas to die? Once I vacuum do I spread more DE? If I don't spread it after each vacuuming do I spread it once a week? Twice?
I don't think we have a major issue at this time. There have been bites, but not like some poor folks I'm reading on here. I set a trap the night before spreading the DE in our bedroom and caught 4 fleas. I think there are other areas that are likely worse, but hopefully not much. We had a very old dog for years and we did treat him for fleas but he passed away just a few weeks ago and, I suspect, without him around the fleas have turned to us for food. He mainly laid in our hallway outside the bedrooms, all of which (including the hall) is carpeted.
So, really looking for some clarification and detail on frequency of vacuuming and spreading DE.
THANKS SO MUCH!
1) set up some flea traps so I can monitor progress.
2) Lay down some DE to get the adults. I would leave it down for 48 hours.
3) Clean up! A clean house is unfriendly to fleas.
4) Leave DE along edges and closets and things for about a month. It doesn't look tidy, but it will be for just a few weeks and then you can get rid of it.
5) After the fleas are gone, I would probably continue to leave DE in some places like behind the couch or in the corners of closets. Just to be sure.
You don't want surviving eggs hatching inside your home. That just restarts the cycle.
It might help to vacuum up a 1/4 cup of DE every couple of days to take care of any larva within the vacuum.
That should keep your vacuum from becoming a 'safe haven' for the critters.
Though "fleabane" hasn't been proven, it couldn't hurt anything.
John Polk wrote:Perhaps you can find some of these flowers that do well in your area.
Though "fleabane" hasn't been proven, it couldn't hurt anything.
I was considering this plant and did a little research. I see that this plant is toxic to dogs, cats and horses, so please be careful!
Bethanny Parker wrote:Is it enough to do flea control in the house if the dog is going outside every day? Are there plants I can use to deter fleas outdoors in the area where the dog hangs out during the day? I am more worried about the fleas on the dog than the fleas in the house. We have not had fleas in here that were bad enough to bother anyone. I just feel bad for the dog, seeing him scratch all the time.
Hi Bethany... I had a survived a severe flea infestation this year and I can say with confidence that NO, inside flea control is not enough. I have indoor/outdoor cats and this year the fleas were worse than any year before. I am CONVINCED that my broken lawnmower had something to do with it. I wasn't able to cut my lawn for several weeks early this summer. So until I was able to get it repaired, I had my own little backyard jungle. It was awful! Unbeknownst to me, fleas were happily hiding out in the grasses, waiting to hitch a ride into my house on my cats and me. It took months to get the fleas out of my house.
My own research and experience suggests that proper yard maintenance plays a huge role in mitigating fleas. Keep your grass cut regularly (no shorter than 3 inches or it will impact lawn health). Remove any weeds, brambles or plant overgrowth near your home and where your pets spend time. This will reduce the places that fleas and other pests can safely hide out. It may take a bit of manual labor, but all this can be done without the use of pesticides or herbicides.
I read a lot about plants that supposedly deterred fleas, but have not tried these myself yet. The common theme seems to be that it is plants with the stronger scents are supposed to be the most effective. Mint, lavender, lemon grasses, and catnip are just a few examples... (Catnip will attract the neighborhood kitties. Be careful where you plant this, as they like to roll around in this and may end up rolling around in other nearby plants as well. It's kind of fun to watch actually.)
Marigolds are also a staple for deterring garden pests, though I've not heard of it being used specifically for fleas.
Citronella plants, fleabane, fleawort, geraniums and eucalyptus are also effective insect deterrents, but are said to have a TOXIC effect on pets. BE CAREFUL!
Homesteading Mama wrote:While the article I read had some informative material, I was disappointed by the amount of conjecture or the number of "statistics" that were the result of the author's speculation. I also believe he seriously downplays the potential severity of a flea problem and severely underestimates the number of fleas that are present when one is visible as well as how quickly they can multiply.
We have now, unfortunately, resorted to a pesticide spot-on treatment. I hate having to do that but I have to break the cycle and what we have been doing so far has not worked. The problem should be significantly improved by now if organic means were going to suffice but they have not.
Homesteading Mama, I agree with you wholeheartedly. The article this forum is based around states "Fleas are nothing more than a minor nuisance." Paul Wheaton... I generally respect your opinion, but in this scenario, I vehemently disagree. This suggests to me that you've never faced the severity of infestation that Homesteading Mama and I have faced.
This year, my two cats and I survived what I call the "Flea Fiasco of 2013". While I believe poor lawn maintenance (broken lawnmower) played a role in the severity of the my infestation, it arose seemingly overnight. Within a matter of days- before I was even able to realize what had happened- I had over 100 bites myself, so I have great empathy for your family. Knowing what I know about the flea life cycle, it actually didn't happen overnight. It happened over the course of several weeks or months, where my cats and I tracked in a small number of fleas, and the females laid hundreds of eggs and then they ALL HATCHED AT THE SAME TIME. When that happens, you have a full blown infestation.
For a month, I vacuumed and washed EVERYTHING, used DE everywhere I could put it (mattresses, rugs, couches, etc) and scrubbed my house from top to bottom for general cleanliness. I set soap-and-water flea traps. I bathed my cats and even rubbed them down them with DE. I put pillows and other things in the dryer in hopes that the high heat would kill the eggs. Organic solutions were NOT working.
I couldn't sleep because of the bites. I found I was scratching in my sleep, and I now have permanent flea-bite scars. My work (and my sanity, lol) were suffering. After a month of battle, I finally moved in with my parents and relegated my cats to the yard. I finally took the cats to the vet for conventional flea meds. (One tip... keep your cats separated for a day or two after using spot-on flea treatments so that they do not lick it off of one another. I know I was especially worried about that when I used the conventional treatments.) At my wits end, now after two months of fighting the fleas, I called out Terminex to spray my house. After 3 visits (and more DE, vacuuming etc), and two rounds of deep cleaning EVERYTHING because of the poisons I ended up using, I finally reclaimed my home.
I do use vacuuming and DE as part of my flea prevention efforts, and believe that it is effective for that. I'm exceptionally glad to have found out about DE, as I believe it does have it's place. It works great on fire ants too! But as the end all and be all of flea treatment during a massive infestation? NO! For me, keeping your pets treated and your yard well tended is your first line of defense in the War Against the Fleas.
It's cold out now, snow on the ground, the flea traps have caught next to nothing the past two weeks and still, my daughter gets home from school, sits on the floor to play and colour (I can't get her to stay at the table, she's too short for it to be comfortable) and by the time I put her to bed she's got more bites. I've had our place inspected, mattresses, floors, everywhere, for bedbugs just to be sure that's not it and it isn't. It's fleas. A horrible, unshakeable case of fleas. The building manager refuses to treat the building as a whole and spray it all at once and everybody else here has pets they treat with advantage. I'm about to go that route myself, foster a cat as a flea sponge and poison it to poison the fleas. How horrible is that? But I just don't know what else to do, this is literally eating up my entire life, all my time and a great deal of money, not to mention my daughter's health. She's been treated with antibiotics for a horribly infected bite, she's suffered so much, and she's regressing to the point I have to sleep with her. I moved to the city to work, lol, to save money for a better life. Instead I'm in debt for the first time in years.
No, not a minor nuisance at all.
I have had flea problems w/cats in the past, though not quite as severe as you describe; I mention it just to indicate I have _some_ familiarity.
What stands out from your description of doing everything is that your daughter should not be getting fleas from sitting in the middle of a clean hard floor which you have been cleaning and vacuuming continuously for weeks and probably just vacuumed hours before. To me that means she may well _not_ be getting them from your floor. Which means she's getting them somewhere else...
> packing everything up...
If you packed up flea eggs, you're going to reinfest places that you already cleaned. This might include places your daugher (and other children) can pick them up - like drawers and closet. However, watching my cats I came to the conclusion that fleas are mostly found close to the ground (the cats took pains to travel above the floor, on the furniture, when possible). Of course the furniture "got fleas" but not in the numbers found on the floor, and the higher you got the fewer fleas to be found. Flea larvae seem to tend downwards.
Between the time your daughter leaves your home and the time she gets back she may pick up fleas. If she's getting them from the common areas of your building there may be something you can do to reduce that problem. If she's getting them on the way to/from day-care or school there may not be much your can do. If she's getting them from day-care/school you again might be able to reduce that problem w/a little social engineering; but when you do that it's for sure that _you_ will be blamed for bringing the fleas in the first place. Just comes w/the territory. Or _you_ may be giving her fleas if you get them from somewhere on your way in/out and then pass them around when you get home. If your family wear light colored clothing then you can more easily see if anybody has hitch hikers. Tops of socks and other elastic lines seem to be places they getca... It may be enlightening if you can, for a few days or a week, totally examine your daughter as she leaves your home and as she returns. You would want to note any "pre-existing" bites or rashes on the way out and note any new ones coming back in - as well as finding actual fleas.
Fleas can be completely aggravating and scary and a huge amount of work but they're not magic. They jump maybe a maximum of about 18". When you vacuum and mop a hardwood flood (while wearing light colored clothing) where the cracks between the boards have been sealed/filled (SOP for refinishing floors - there are simple products designed for that) - there will be no fleas there until they (possibly) move in from other areas and that takes a certain amount of time. And since you've been pulvering all the other areas too, it will be that much less likely or quick.
You can probably clear the area you control. The important thing is to see if your family is bringing in more every day. That's what might make your mission really hard and you need to know about it.
I was careful to clean things when unpacking, all fabric got laundered, vacuumed, sprayed with bug deterring essential oils. I bought a wardrobe to put clothes that we were keeping on open shelves so nothing is exposed or even too close to the floor. We don't have clutter, the floor is fairly bare throughout aside from solid furniture. This apartment has been treated with poison now a total of 3 times since we moved in, you'd think fleas would not find it hospitable. I just don't get it, why is the problem so bad here? Granted, it is calming down now that the weather's turned but I suspect it will flare up again in spring and I just can't go through this again. And I'm afraid to move and take these bitey critters with us! We never had any sort of problems like this out on the farm, this city has some nuclear insects or something.
I have to say, as little as 3 weeks ago we'd be sitting on the couch and a flea would jump on one of us. 2 weeks ago one jumped onto my arm while at the dining room table. I'll do the white socks vacuum routine this week and see what happens. Unbelievable.
If the outside weather makes a difference it's because your fleas are coming in from the outside. From what you said about your initial problem that might not be the case. The egg, larva and pupa stages make their home low and in cracks which makes them hard to just vacuum up all at once. Eggs keep hatching over a period of time and are replaced w/a few more eggs (fewer, we trust) which then hatch over time. Removing them all is a cycle but hard floors should be a big help. If you're not using the usual entrances from public areas, you could put DE barriers along the floor and a bit up the sides of those entries. How do you reach the fire escape entrance? What do you have to walk through?
Is your vacuum actually a good machine? Ie. does it have good suction and does the container seal well (avoid sending stuff out the other end)? I think perhaps a "shop vac" type where you simply have a suction hose w/a passive (no motorized beater brush) fitting on the end might work the best w/your floors to get into corners and suck out crevices. OTOH a beater brush wakes up flea eggs and brings out the bugs to get vacuum up next time; but almost any activity would probably wake up the bugs. Some floor vacs have a hose attachment with just suction but usually they don't provide all that much suck compared with standard shop vacs. My sister thinks they're good enough though... High suction would also be good for any fabric on furniture (your mentioned a couch?). I don't recall how much time at what temperature it takes to kill flea eggs. I think a good dryer which makes clothes too hot to touch (120F and up) would do the job but it might take 30 minutes or more at that temperature and the fabric might not like it. I assume you vacuumed the underside of the furniture. What else...
Possibly you could consider painting or polyurethaning the floor (depending on whether it's wood grain or painted now). This would seal in and eliminate existing bugs in the cracks of the floor. If you have baseboards and could caulk all the cracks and paint the baseboard and that would raise the safe zone by the height of the baseboards. Open the windows and vacuum the window sills and spaces along the bottom of the windows. Pull out the stove and the refrig (separately) and vac/clean/caulk everything back there. Check out "unused" areas which you may overlook as time goes on; just so you don't get surprised and disappointed down the road.
I have found it's basically a matter of consistent repetition of the cleaning steps. That and ensuring as few newcomers as possible get in. This could be that moment in time when your family develops especially good home hygiene habits which will benefit them all through their lives! <g> It's kinda humbling but it might not be a bad idea to reintroduce the idea of interpersonal grooming like the apes do - check each other out before bed and first thing in the morning or some such. Hopefully there would be few "hits" but it would probably help your peace of mind and maybe give some clews when you did find a flea or two.
FWIW. Just some thoughts looking in...
Vacuuming them up will remove the fleas/eggs/larva from where they are, but that isn't enough.
They are still alive/viable inside your vacuum cleaner!
Dumping a cup of DE on the floor after you are done vacuuming, and then vacuuming that up may kill most of them inside the vacuum. To be on the safe side, you should either store the vacuum outside the house, or dispose of the bag after each use. They are just as warm and cozy inside a vacuum as they were in that crevice, rug, or couch. You need to get them all outside of the house, or the cycle has not been broken.
I don't want to vacuum up DE, it's not great to inhale too much of it and I have some breathing issues already. Instead I've steam cleaned the floors more than once, that thing is so super duper hot it's supposed to kill anything. I steamed the windows and the rads too. I do treat the door frames with DE and a poison spray. The kitchen door leads out to the fire escape.
I've read 15 mins in the drier is enough time but I leave them in there on high for longer than that anyhow. The couch is actually my bed so everything comes off that, linens and the cover, and it all goes into the wash.
All the baseboards, cracks and crevices were caulked before I moved in, it's all sealed up tight. I can't do anything to the floor, I rent.
My daughter is little, I see her fully naked at least twice a day. That's when I photograph her bites . I also do a lice check on both kids daily and spray them with tea tree oil before they go to school (aka the germ and lice factory, omg). We never have fleas on us, not unless one jumps on then jumps off. I don't think they really hang around on the body. They just sense her heat when she's sitting on the floor and hop on over and bite her up.
I have looked this up online so many times and I follow Every Single Recommendation I've come across but to no avail. It's been over three months and I am just managing to keep them down a little. It's beyond irritating, I am really fed up.
Gotta go finish the 18 loads of laundry I'm doing this week .
Pyrethrin should not be confused with pyrethroids (such as Permethrin) which are synthetic insecticides. The natural and artificlal substances, though similar, have different properties and important differences in their level of safety, especially around pets.
Pyrethrins are considered one of the least toxic insecticides to mammals. They are biodegradable and break down with exposure to light.
But I still don't know where to get it, what product it's in, or anything useful. There's only one site I found with possible products but I can't tell if they'd be safe to use. I'd feel more confident if there were other healthy conscious people using and reviewing this stuff.
I've been following your permaculture podcasts, blogs, buying some DVDs, etc and really enjoying your information and your colorful commentaries.
I appreciate your discussion on flea control and the sincere attempt to use the least harmful methods.
I have been a small-animal veterinarian for over 25 years and have more than a little education and experience with the flea life cycle, treatment, and associated dermatology problems in pets. (and more than I want to know about the owner's dermatologic reaction sometimes!)
Contrary to what people sometimes expect, rural pets do not typically carry more fleas than urban pets. Urban pets are far more likely to have flea problems because the concentrated environment is so attractive for fleas.
In either case, fleas are happy to populate in a house. Even a very clean house. Flea-infested does not mean dirty.
By the way, we have parasitologists that have studied this extensively. (As an aside they also have some interesting fields where they are studying ticks. I'd like to take the permaculture approach along with their information together and write about environmental tick management, but that's just an interesting digression for now). Female fleas start dropping eggs within 24 hrs of getting on your pet, and they do indeed drop thousands of eggs, many of which survive to the pupae stage (each female flea produces 40-50 eggs per day). As you indicated in your article, the pupae can survive for months. But they can also go through the pupae stage in as little as two weeks. Most people have thousands of fleas in their home by the time notice they have a flea (that again is borne out by studies where volunteers accepted parasitologists to survey their home at the time of flea reports).
One of the most important points is that adult fleas aren't too likely to leave the pet. You may have realized that, but the emphasis is important because if you don't thoroughly and quickly kill the adults on the pet, they keep dropping eggs. Ongoing flea infestations always come down to owners modifying/cheating on recommended protocols and then spending hours per week trying to vacuum, chase, powder and scream the rest of the fleas away. Flea eggs are non-sticky, so eggs drop off the pet readily. Vacuuming and cleaning helps, but eggs will still survive in microscopic cracks and crevices.
Your light-trap monitoring is not very accurate. That has also been studied, and only an intermittent-light device correlates with actual flea counts. (Fleas are drawn to a change in light, not just to "light".) Further, you need to count male vs female fleas to understand whether the fleas are being brought in by a host or whether you have eliminated new flea introduction, and the remaining fleas represent an aging population.
I'll dispute the idea that fleas are merely a "nuisance". They are for some pets or people. But for the sensitive individuals (which are many), it takes very few flea bites to get in a condition where the pet now needs two or three medications to return them to a healthy and comfortable condition. And it's (in my experience) extremely rare to see a flea infestation continue to be only a nuisance. (I've also added some of the diseases transmitted by fleas, much more common than plague)
I have seen small dogs and cats die from flea anemia, and I have given blood transfusions to hundreds of others who were close to death.
Let me suggest that using something with not only a good safety record, but also good effectiveness, will actually lower the overall need of applying foreign substances in or on the animal or their environment. Even a mild flea reaction causes skin inflammation, affects the skin lipid layer, and increases stress hormone response.
While trying to avoid products that worry you, don't forget that fleas are a parasite. That's an obvious negative. As far as I know, there is no symbiotic effect that fleas give to the animals.
I'm also not the least bit comfortable with diatomaceous earth on the skin, and therefore likely inhaled. While the individuals you spoke with may not have viewed their personal lungs on a microscope, such work has been done (both microscopically and with imaging). There is evidence of abscess formation and fibrosis or granulomas still present months later. Some people will euphemistically call this fibrosis "scar tissue". Fibrosis of the lungs can affect respiratory capacity, and granulomas can theoretically be a precursor to cancerous growths. Granted, I am not aware of any cases of serious lung disease from light exposure to diatomaceous earth, but damage does indeed occur. This needs to be accordingly contrasted with the fact it must be constantly reapplied directly on an insect, having probably at least some affect on the pet's skin, and not getting rid of all the fleas. Why would you not weigh the effectiveness and safety of DE rather than assuming its advantages outweigh its disadvantages, compared to other treatments?
diatomaceous earth is probably a reasonable environmental preventative, as you describe. But where there is already a flea infestation, there is no way the DE is going to reach each individual flea, especially with the fleas on the pet continuing to drop more eggs. It was probably not helpful to tell someone with an animal shelter to prevent fleas by putting DE on the edges. Those fleas are coming in with the pets, not from the outside. The eggs are dropping and will continue to populate there if each pets' fleas are not eliminated as it enters the shelter.
One other thing: fleas are a host for tapeworm eggs. The more fleas a pet has, the more likely they are to swallow more fleas, and the more likely they are to need tapeworm treatment. The only effective tapeworm treatment is another chemical (a seemingly safe one, but another one).
**I came back to make some important edits/additions because I first typed this note quickly. Let's summarize the potential damage from fleas. Where I know the percentages with fair accuracy, I'll include them. Where I can only estimate them from my experience, I'll put a qualitative anecdoctal statement.
The Cat Scratch Fever issue is particularly significant for humans that own cats, and it just wasn't on my mind when I first responded.
Flea presence (this means any exposure and/or bites, not necessarily severe infestation) can cause
1) Tapeworm in dogs and cats ("Very high" percentage in my experience, over 50% of the pets who have fleas will have tapeworms). The fleas are a host to the egg of the Dipylidium tapeworm. Cats and dogs lick themselves, swallowing a flea, and the tapeworm grows in the intestine. Tapeworms live for years if not treated, causing vomiting, diarrhea, and hypoproteinemia. It is my understanding that humans in the household, especially children are occasionally infected with tapeworms.
2) Bartonellosis in felines, transmissible to humans as "cat scratch fever". Unfortunately, many pediatricians do not understand the pathogenesis of cat scratch fever. Docs tend to tell people to "get rid of the cat" when someone gets cat scratch fever. However, flea control will prevent transmission. First, the Bartonella organism is present in a very high percentage of cats (30% ?) and probably transmitted by fleas and other insect vectors; ticks may also be an agent. But the important factor here is that Bartonella only lives in blood. A cat scratch itself, while painful and always a potential for infection, doesn't spread cat scratch fever. The problem is the flea-infested cat, which will inevitably have tiny bits of flea dirt around its nail (containing flea excrement, including digested blood and surviving Bartonella bacteria). Thus if your cat has fleas and scratches a human, the chance of them transmitting cat scratch fever are fairly high. With no flea infestation the chance is close to zero. (Surveys show about 20-30% of the cats with fleas carry Bartonellosis. If you can guarantee you cat will never scratch you, not even when afraid, then you have little risk of getting cat scratch fever from them and their fleas. Although you could still get the bacteria if you handled the cat when you had an open wound.)
This bacteria can cause systemic disease, including heart valve infection in humans. Get a real case of cat scratch fever, and you will be in the hospital... where of course you are at risk for picking up more infections.
Some bartonellosis has also been found in flea-infested dogs (and their fleas) but the clinical significance to dogs, or whether or not they transmit it to humans, is uncertain.
3)Rickettsial diseases. Rickettsial diseases include things like Lyme disease, Typhus, spotted fever, etc. Tested fleas have been found to carry various rickettsial bacteria in numbers ranging from 20-60%. Cats infected with fleas have antibodies to some of these bacteria, meaning they have been exposed to them. The percentage of times that fleas actually transmit these diseases to animals though is not known at this time. There have been at least some human cases of the type of typhus bacteria found in fleas.
4)Feline Mycoplasma. Transmitted by fleas, and causes immune problems that can eventually cause anemia in the cat. In US and Australia, approximately 20% of the cats infested with fleas were found to have Mycoplasma. Some of the cats can probably handle this with their immune system, so it is a smaller number that actually develop the anemia to a clinical extent. (no one knows yet how many) I've seen this in my practice but I really can't come up with a feeling for how common it is.
5) Flea allergy dermatitis. Some pets and people are so allergic to the flea bite that you can scarcely find fleas when they start to get pruritis. Often this pruritis is severe enough to require glucocorticoid treatment (which of course has its own side effects). The dermatitis weakens the skin leading to pyoderma, so the person or pet may also need antibiotics. Because it's tough to convince a dog or cat not to scratch where they itch, a more severe pyoderma may develop in specific areas (called a "hot spot") requiring the meds, plus perhaps topical medications and sometimes even restraint devices (ie cone of shame) to prevent self-trauma. The lipid layers in the skin become damaged, and the pet or person is more susceptible to any other infectious agent, plant material, etc they come in contact with.
More severe flea infestations: (ie greater numbers)
1) Anemia. Plain and simple, fleas suck blood. Smaller pets like kittens and puppies or older pets who are not very mobile can have so much blood ingested by the fleas that they require blood transfusions, succumb to secondary illness, or die before treatment.
2) Severe pruritis. Even without an allergy problem, enough fleas will cause self-trauma and some of the problems of flea allergy dermatitis.
3) Hair loss, stress, and general debilitation. Pets with a severe infestation often come to our practice with complaints of lethargy, inappetance, and sleeplessness. Their owners are often also lethargic from being awake hearing their pets scratch at night
Fleas are no joke and they are not merely a nuisance. They are a parasite, they transmit other parasites, they cause direct illness and secondary illness.
Saying a low-level flea infestation isn't a big deal seems to me like saying what you feed yourself isn't that important, because you will only be a little less healthy if you eat junk.
Before we had highly-effective treatments, I think there was actually a lot more chemical exposure. When people get frustrated enough they'll start spraying everything (and sometimes have to, because the infestation has gotten so bad).
Paul you live in Montana, and I'm guessing that's not a great climate for fleas. That may be partially responsible for your thoughts that fleas can be controlled in the way you describe. I would, however, wager that if I hand you a dog with fleas and you attempt to rid the dog of fleas by combing, diatomaceous earth, and the other methods you suggest, that I can still find fleas on the pet when you are finished (assuming of course you devote only your normal effort to it and not an effort ascribed to an exceptionally-large wager )
Finally, you asked about information on poisoning from flea products. You can probably find this under the EPA's "adverse events" reporting. Be aware though that "reporting" just means someone saw a problem that they associated with the product. If they put a topical product in the eye and the dog's eye became red, that's an adverse event. The most common cause of adverse events to topical flea products are when dog-labeled products are applied to cats. Second most likely is giving the wrong amount. Another common problem is buying flea products online, which can turn out to be counterfeit. The products I have seen (or found legitimate reporting of serious problems) are those cheap ones in Walmart I have already mentioned and am not going into by name at the moment.
I've been asked not to mention non-organic flea products, so I am now befuddled as to what to discuss here.
diatomaceous earth is inorganic, and the thread is almost entirely about DE.
Failure to prevent fleas is a potential cause of toxicity and disease, as I have highlighted. Fleas also often create a situation where medications are needed to treat secondary problems. I would think a discussion of safety and disease prevention would be more relevant.
I will emphasize that you ASK your veterinarian about what to use. They should be able to explain their recommendation based on your climate and your pet's individual environment. Some veterinarians are more educated on flea life cycle than others. If they don't want to talk to you about what they recommend, go elsewhere. In this country, if you prevent fleas on your dogs and cats, it is very unlikely you will have flea problems with the humans. There are exceptions of course where wildlife get close. I had 1 client who finally discovered raccoons living in the chimney were the source of repeated flea problems in their home. If you start a treatment, pay attention to the full protocol. Treating just once may make you think the problem is solved, until those remaining flea pupae hatch out again later.
If someone thinks their flea risk is low and they can try to prevent it with the environmental methods such as the diatemaceous earth, that is reasonable. I personally feel we have too high a probability of serious problems in the midwest to recommend that approach.
Keeping in the vein of permaculture, I suspect fleas do have some greater role in our environment. But I'm comfortable with minimizing their numbers on the pets and people closest to me.
Thank you for your very sane advice on fleas. I used DE in the past and it is magical for flea control.
Now, however, I am trying not to panic and I am asking for your help. I have a painful and prodigious number of flea bites, I have found three fleas on my body and have felt what seem like many others, and they are still here. This has been going on for about 10 days now. The bites started on my back and then continued onto my thighs, and now they are even beginning to be on my face.
Last night I took some advice I found on the web and washed my hair with (natural) lemon dish detergent and combed through my hair with conditioner, trying to see any fleas in the comb. I didn't see fleas, but I did see white spots. I don't know if those are eggs--a horrifying thought--or just something like dandruff. In the last two days, I have put essential oils of Lavender and Lemon all over my body and in the bedding; that has seemed to make the fleas angry and bite more.
I was staying at a friend's when I began to get the bites--her home has a dog and six cats. I had her home treated by a green pest control specialist who found fleas in the bedding and sprayed with an essential oil mix including gardenia and spearmint. I left there about a week ago, shortly after I started to get bitten.
I have a cat, on whom I have not found any fleas when combing her fur with a flea comb (I have seen white flecks, but they look more like dry skin?) She is an indoor cat.
I spent a lot of time with the dog at the place where I first got the flea bites, and I am wondering if they are dog fleas and now that there is no dog to bite they have come to me? I also spend a lot of time outdoors, often on organic farms, and by the Delaware River and in woods, and all kinds of nature environments. I have read that there is a type of flea that feeds on humans--could this be it?
I am in my apartment in NYC currently, and I am really getting worried about this. I am beginning to be in pain with the bites (although I am mostly not scratching them) and I don't know exactly where to turn to help. I am hoping it is you!