A Lesson Learned: Fleas 101
Over the course of my service, I have had the unfortunate reality of being both the roommate and victim of fleas. To be quite honest, fleas are commonplace for community I live in. They primarily originate from the dogs and cats that families own. Unfortunately, the dogs and cats are not treated for fleas. This means the more time you spend around dogs or cats, the more chances you will have of getting bothered by fleas. And if it’s bad enough, like my case, just standing or sitting still for too long in certain places will mean fleas will find you.
Like most unfortunate experiences in the Peace Corps, my relationship with fleas can be seen as a learning opportunity. Over the course of many months with fleas, I have learned their strengths and weaknesses. In fact, I have so much experience with fleas, that I have dubbed myself the Lord of the Fleas. I much prefer this nick name over the ones my friends have given me such as ‘Ted Cochino (dirty Ted), Pig Pen (from Snoopy), Cochino and sometimes just Cochi.
Nonetheless, what these friends do not realize is the valuable skills I am picking up with regards to the flea mindset, hiding patterns, hunting strategies and termination techniques. So for any of the readers that may run into fleas in their lives, especially other Peace Corps volunteers, please take heed to the following lessons and strategies I have learned.
1.) The first thing to realize is that you probably won’t know you have fleas if you are not allergic. That’s what happened to me. For weeks I was getting bit, but my bites never broke out or got itchy. If you are the allergic type, then rest in peace, because you’re already finished.
2.) Once you learn of your flea problem, allergic or not, your life path is altered forever.
3.) Fleas mostly hangout in and around dogs. So if you can, avoid dogs. But if you’re like me, and like to pet the occasional dog or cat, do it with caution. And when the dogs and cats come hanging around you because they are looking for pets and love, don’t be afraid to gently kick them away.
4.) Fleas mostly like to latch onto socks and the bottom of your pants, but if they have time, they will move up. So you gotta find ’em quick. They also really like the waist band area and crotch.
5.) Fleas like dark colors. They can hide better that way. So if you’re wearing dark anything, you’re literally a moving target for fleas.
6.) Even if you are completely avoiding dogs, fleas will still find you. They hop around all day looking for a warm and fuzzy host. If you sit or stand still in places where dogs hang out, such as doorways, patios, steps etc. then you are bound to get fleas.
7.) Ultimately, if you live in a high canine area like me, it is extremely hard to prevent fleas. Because of that, it is necessary to check for fleas every single time you go inside your room. This is how you avoid carrying the fleas into your sacred space.
8.) Never get into bed wearing anything that you were just wearing outside. Chances are the fleas are already in your bed, but you don’t want to make it worse. Keep your outside clothes separate.
9.) When checking your clothes for fleas, use a light. They tend to shine just a little bit which helps reveal their location. If you’re like me, a head lamp is the best option. This leaves both hands free for picking out the fleas.
10.) Fleas have an incredible threshold for pain and suffering. You can catch a flea and ‘crush’ it between your fingers for 60 seconds and think its dead. But when you open your vice grip, they happily jump away to live another day. It is crucial to use your fingernails when killing a flea. You need to decapitate the flea into two pieces (sometimes even then they will continue to move and escape). If you do it just right, you will hear a popping sound as the pressure from your fingernail explodes them.
11.) The bigger the flea is the longer is has been biting you and surviving. Treat them with no mercy. But be prepared for a bloody outcome because its your blood that makes them swell. Treat the little ones without mercy also, because if they get a chance, they’ll grow up just like mom and dad.
12.) If you are going to go flea-hunting, it’s best you do it with socks, short pants and a head lamp. Sit in bed or in a location in your room where you know they like to play. In my case, thats literally anywhere. Relax, watch a movie or read a book, but do so with heightened awareness. Eventually, you will feel the flea crawling around or jumping on your legs, arms or around your waste. Once you have located the flea, turn on your head lamp, let it settle, and try to pinch it, smash it or trap it. Whatever skill you use to acquire the flea, make sure to always terminate with your fingernails.
13.) If the flea gets away, which it will, try not to get too upset. However, ask any hunter and they will say that it is always frustrating when your kill gets away. What you need to realize is that the flea will come back. They always do. They are not smart. They cannot resist the urge for your body heat and blood. Go back to your movie or book and wait for its return.
14.) The positive outcome of flea hunting is sometimes peace of mind and a flea free area. This normally helps for sleeping. But this is not always the case. The other outcome, which is somewhat unavoidable is PFD– phantom flea disorder. PFD is psychological disorder where the victim of frequent flea onslaughts mistakes other sensations– such as itches and twitches– for fleas. Other insects– such as ants and flies– can also be mistaken for fleas and fall prey to merciless fingernail slaughter. Lastly, blankets, socks, or clothing can also be mistaken for fleas when they give just the perfect amount of friction. PFD has been known to disrupt sleep, waste battery power of headlamps and cause neck pain. There is no cure for PFD.
15.) Contrary to popular belief, fleas are not silent. During hunting sessions, you can also listen for them as they hop across your bed, blankets and couches. This may or may not help find them. It’s normally just a dead end. But an interesting fact nontheless.
16.) Once you reach your breaking point, it is time to do laundry and leave behind massive loads of poison. It is best to do this before leaving town for a couple of days. Strip your entire room of anything fabric–blankets, pillow cases, carpets, clothing, decorations– and bring it all to be washed. If you can, wash it multiple times. Once your room is naked, leave behind poisons of all sorts. I prefer the spray, but there is also sticky traps and powders. Spray any location where fleas have been known to frequent. In my case, that’s everywhere. Spray until it becomes unsafe to breathe or occupy the room, then shut the door and let the tiny fuckers die. Also spray the outsides of any window or door.
17.) Do not reenter your room until the air content is mostly oxygen again. Sweep out the dead carcasses of any poor thing that used to be living. Spiders, ants, moths, flies etc. will more than likely be collateral damage. Remake your room and enjoy the flea-free area for however long it lasts. In my case, 1 day.
18.) Poison flea spray is not acceptable to use on dogs. There is a separate shampoo that gets used for animals and humans. No matter how many times I tell my host-grandmother this, she keeps spraying them. The noises they make are truly frightening.
19.) When fleas are scared and trying to escape, they burrow down. If you find them on your socks, blankets or carpets, do not panic like the flea. Keep an eye on it, let it burrow and feel comfortable. Turn your headlamp on and pick it out. Sometimes just decapitating their little butt as it sticks out is the easiest.
20.) Repeat incessantly any and all of the lessons from above without end. Living with fleas is a long road. And when that doesn’t work, stop resisting and just become the flea. Or burn your house down.