Sandfly bites

Cutaneous leishmaniasis is the form that causes skin sores. Visceral affects internal organs, such as the spleen, liver, and bone marrow, and mucocutaneous destroys the body’s mucus membranes of the nose, mouth, and throat. Of the three, cutaneous is the most common form detected both in the U.S. and around the world, Cama said. The CDC estimates anywhere from 700,000 to 1.2 million people around the world experience cutaneous leishmaniasis each year.

Adult female fleas pose the most risk to humans. While both adult male and female fleas feed on warm-blooded hosts, like humans, the adult mated females burrow into the skin of humans (more on that later).

Beach Sand Fly Bites: What To Know

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What do Sand Flea Bites Look Like

To help you with everything you need to know about sand fleas, Health spoke to Hinkle, an entomologist (aka, a bug expert). Here’s what to understand about sand fleas, their bites, and other damage these parasites can cause.

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Where Do Sand Fleas Live?

Sand fleas reproduce with the help of humans. Female sand fleas burrow into the skin (usually the feet), and male sand fleas briefly meet them there to mate, Hinkle said.

When infected by Leishmania parasites, sand flies have the ability to transmit various forms of leishmaniasis to humans.

Here’s what you need to know, including symptoms, treatments, and prevention.

Mosquito Bites vs. Sand Fly Bites: What to Know About Leishmaniasis Risk

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Better to know what they are and how to prevent sandflies from biting.

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What are Sandflies?

While your odds of contracting leishmaniasis in the U.S. are still low, it’s still in your best interest to avoid a sand fly bite. Prevention is key: avoid buggy outdoor areas between dusk and dawn, wear long-sleeved shirts, pants, and socks, and apply bug spray with DEET to avoid getting bitten.

Compared to mosquito bites, which are raised, red, and itchy bumps that go away after several days, sand fly bites usually start off small, grow into ulcers, aren’t typically painful, and take a longer time to heal.

What Are Sand Fleas and How Can Their Bite Affect You

Sand Flea Bites on Humans

Currently, there are no vaccines or drugs to prevent infection. The best prevention is to take protective measures against sand flies.

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What Do Leishmaniasis Sand Fly Bites Look and Feel Like?

Leishmaniasis is far from common in the U.S. In Texas—the only state that requires public health reporting of leishmaniasis—an average of six cases are documented each year. The reason to take notice of the disease and its tiny sand fly vectors now is that researchers are starting to notice more cases are originating in the U.S. than usual.

Maggie O’Neill is a health writer and reporter based in New York who specializes in covering medical research and emerging wellness trends, with a focus on cancer and addiction. Prior to her time at Health, her work appeared in the Observer, Good Housekeeping, CNN, and Vice. She was a fellow of the Association of Health Care Journalists’ 2020 class on Women’s Health Journalism and 2021 class on Cancer Reporting. In her spare time, she likes meditating, watching TikToks, and playing fetch with her dog, Finnegan.

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Sand Flea Bites on Humans

Sand flies are generally most active at night, so the CDC recommends avoiding outdoor activities between sunset and sunrise. It’s also recommended to minimize the amount of exposed skin by wearing long-sleeved shirts, longer pants, and socks.

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Where Is Leishmaniasis Found?

Leishmaniasis cases can be found worldwide, including some parts of Asia, the Middle East, Africa, southern Europe, Mexico, and Central and South America. Most of the positive leishmaniasis cases in the U.S. “are from people who traveled internationally, often to Latin America,” Cama added.

When people talk about sand fleas, they may be talking about different organisms: Sand flies, which live in and around aquatic habitats, and sand or mole crabs, which are crustaceans that live on the beach and don’t bite humans.

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