At our veterinary practice, everybody is used to dealing with emergencies. The peaceful steady procession of routine appointments is often disturbed by the sudden arrival of a seriously ill animal. Road accidents, convulsions, heart attacks and dog fight injuries can occur at any time. The reception staff know that they can interrupt the vet from any other case to give possibly life-saving care to a newly arrived critically ill patient.
However, on this occasion, the receptionist seemed baffled as she quietly knocked on my consulting room door. ‘A lady has just arrived with an emergency, and she’s hysterically upset. She doesn’t seem to have an animal with her, and I can’t get her to explain what the problem is. She is insisting that she must see a vet at once, and that it is a life or death situation.’
As I ushered the lady into a consulting room, I could see that she was very distraught. Without saying a word, she took out a matchbox, and told me to look inside. At first I thought it was empty, but on closer inspection, I found a small flea. I peered at it for a moment or two, and then glanced up nervously at the lady. “It’s a flea” I told her. The lady burst into tears, and nodded her head energetically.
She had been bathing her baby that evening, and this flea had suddenly hopped into the bathwater. She was now convinced that her home was the subject of a major, uncontrollable infestation of vicious, hungry fleas. She had noticed a rash on her own forearm. She had heard rumours that fleas could carry deadly diseases, and she had heard stories about people who had moved house because of massive flea plagues.
I reassured the lady that there was no cause for concern. Fleas do not carry any diseases which can affect humans. Animal fleas will only bite a human once or twice, before deciding that the taste is not to their liking. A mild skin rash is the most severe symptom encountered.
It is true that fleas can infest houses. They hop off their animal hosts, and lay eggs in the carpets and furnishings. However, they are not difficult to eradicate – there is a simple pesticide spray designed for the purpose. The spray contains a knock-down agent which kills all the adult fleas. It also leaves a safe residue which prevents any flea eggs from hatching out for the following seven months. If she used the spray tonight, the lady’s house would be flea-free by the morning.
She would also have to treat her cat for fleas, since it was likely that he had brought them into the house. I explained the various new anti-flea treatments for animals – the long acting sprays and the spot-on products which are easily applied to the back of the neck.
Soon, the lady had calmed down. She looked me in the eye, and said ‘Thank you very much’. I could tell from the steely resolve in her face that no flea in her house was going to escape her onslaught.