Introducing the Flea Circus
A couple of weeks after the bedbugs all disappeared, I was lying on my futon at about one in the morning while trying to work on a movie script when I heard clicking noises. When I looked closely at the computer screen, I saw insects jumping at it.
Human flea. Image by Dept. of Parasitology, University of Sao Paulo, Brazil
There are approximately 1,600 species of flea on this planet. The ones that cause us the most grief are the human flea, the cat flea, and the dog flea. All of them will happily feed at least once on any mammal, but apparently only the human flea will maintain an infestation where there is no pet animal present in the home. However, I’ve seen reports on the web that claim that cat fleas can and do infest homes where no pets are kept.
Obviously, dog fleas are more fussy diners. Personally, I wouldn’t know from experience since I have no pets. Except a pet rock (remember them?).
The First DIY solution
Thinking a few fleas would be easy to deal with, I bought two cans of expensive flea-killer from my local vet and sprayed the house as directed.
But I was still itchy – hands and wrists, elbows, groin, buttocks, anus, and lumbar back – and it got much worse at night. And I also had the tickles.
Two weeks later I had fresh bites – the fleas were back.
I tried again. With the same results.
Complete Pest Control again
So I gave up and called in Complete Pest Control again. This time they sent out two technicians for almost an entire morning who did a pretty thorough job. Again at my request, they sprayed my futon and other bedding, including my duvet and pillows.
Two weeks later, I was being bitten once more.
I called them back. Three technicians this time, armed with new chemicals. This new stuff, I was told, would drive them crazy and out of their hiding places to where the killer pesticide was waiting for them.
Two weeks later, the fleas were back. One night, I picked one off my ear, and, lying in bed, another from my groin.
I decided to try another pest control company.
The Rentokil story
When the Rentokil assessor arrived at about 6.30pm, he assured me the most reliable option would be their “ultimate” package – the Bedbug Treatment Plan. Although this was expensive (almost €800 with tax), it was guaranteed to eliminate every pest insect in the house. Rentokil would keep coming back if necessary, he said, until all the fleas had finally gone. The plan consisted of three visits spaced 10 to 14 days apart.
What about the garden? I asked. A lot of stuff had been taken out and treated outside. Could the fleas have gone outside with them?
No, he said, fleas don’t live in gardens. I now know this is not true. But I was naive at the time and believed him.
After the first treatment, I was bitten five times. Then no more bites until the second treatment. After which I got four. Then clear again until the third treatment. This time, I got 13 bites.
So I called in the guarantee. As I waited for the technician to arrive, in the back garden I saw a wandering cat leap into the air with a pained expression as if it had just been bitten on its flank.
When the technician came, he was unhappy about having to spray the house again.
Thinking I could be reinfesting the house from the garden, I told him about the cat. Could there be fleas in the garden? No, he said, it was probably just a tick.
Probably just a tick. Wow, that’s just sensational news.
I asked him about the guarantee and about Rentokil coming back until the job was done successfully. He laughed and said this was the first time he’d ever had to treat a house four times and he wouldn’t be coming back again. Contact the management if I had any complaints.
He was initially reluctant to tell me what chemical he had used at first, then relented. ActiBiol Flow – a general purpose pesticide.
Two weeks passed with only one bite. I thought that was it – they’re finally gone.
A month went by. I thought I was finally flea-free.
And then I started being bitten again. One night I found a flea sitting on my bed and another when I got into it.
I’d now been dealing with this for nine months so I gave up on Rentokil and decided to take matters into my own hands once again.
(Once again, please note that I requested the technician to spray my bed and bedding during all treatments).
The Second DIY Solution
Evolution didn’t stop when modern man arrived. A species under severe environmental pressure will either die out or evolve to cope. Obviously, my fleas were pesticide-resistant. So the only approach open to me was the mechanical one.
Which means food-grade diatomaceous earth. It’s so safe it can be taken with water to kill all intestinal parasites. It’s also good for people with osteoporosis. I’m one.
It’s a sedimentary rock formed from the fossilised remains of diatoms, a kind of hard-shelled algae. It’s pulverised to dust and looks like talcum powder, with an abrasive feel. If you examine it under a powerful microscope, you’ll see it has very sharp edges. These puncture the waxy coating of insects with exoskeletons, and since it’s also a highly effective dessicant, it dehydrates them to death them very quickly.
I imported it from the US and dusted the entire house.
Four days later, all the fleas were dead.
They’ve never returned.
Incidentally, the diatomaceous earth solution would have worked fine for the bedbugs, too. But I didn’t know that at the time.
But I knew I still had a problem since, right from the start, even during the weeks I was flea-free, I was still getting tickles all over my body. And itching pretty badly at night.
Mites? A fungal infection? I phoned Rentokil for information. Mites and fungi, they told me, were a medical matter.
So off to my family doctor I went.
And I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard the response.
Read on to continue the story...