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5 Common Skin Parasites

Of all your personal characteristics, from your personality to your appearance to your beliefs, there's probably one thing you never considered yourself to be: lunch. But you are -- or, at least, you potentially are -- to tiny creatures known as skin parasites. These small insects, worms and bugs survive on the blood and bodily materials of humans and other animals. And while you may be very good for them, they're not beneficial to you.

Whether they're simple nuisances or full-fledged disease carriers, you'll want to avoid skin parasites if you can. The best way to steer clear of these pests is to better understand them. To help you with this, we've created a list of the five most common skin parasites and explained how they operate and how they differ.

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We'll also look at how skin parasites are acquired and the best ways to get rid of them. There's a lot to learn about these bothersome creatures, so keep reading to find out how you can stay off their menu.

Almost everyone has come into contact with fleas. Even if you don't have a cat or dog, you've likely been around people who do. And since fleas are expert travelers that will indiscriminately munch on any mammal (or the occasional bird), our four-legged friends aren't the only ones at their mercy.

These wingless insects are known for their leaping abilities. They also reproduce quickly, making their numbers a force to be reckoned with. To prevent a possible infestation of these parasites, be aware of signs that they're present in your home. Cats and dogs increase scratching and fur-chewing when they have fleas. They also develop telltale black specks known as "flea dirt" in their fur. On your skin, fleas will leave clusters or lines of fleabites. These areas will have itchy dark red bumps ringed in pink.

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Once you find indication of fleas in your home, act fast. Your fist step should be to give your pet a flea treatment. If you still notice a problem, you should consider treating your carpets and rugs with an insecticide. Natural means of flea elimination include pennyroyal and cedar oil.

The next skin parasite is as nearly well known as the flea. Keep reading to find out what it is.

Like fleas, ticks prefer feeding on mammals and birds. Their physical structures, as well as their modes of attack and feeding, are a bit different, however. For example, these spider-like parasites are in the arachnid family. Rather than breaking skin with a bite, they use sharp mandibles to pierce the skin. Perhaps the most noticeable difference is that ticks remain attached to their hosts until they are completely full. This is a process that can take a few days.

You're also more likely to pick up a tick outdoors than indoors. Their common habitats include woods, bushes and areas with tall grass. You should check yourself for ticks after spending time in such locations. Because a tick piercing is usually painless, you probably won't notice its presence without a visual check.

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If you find a tick on yourself or a pet, remove it right away as these parasites carry potentially deadly illnesses like Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease. The best method of removal is pull the tick out firmly with a pair of tweezers. You will then want to make sure the tick is thoroughly killed and be sure to wash the bite area with soap and water.

The next parasite on our list is the scourge of the public school system.

There can be a stigma attached to having lice, but there shouldn't be. These parasites are as indiscriminate as they are widespread.

Lice are sesame seed-sized insects that feed off of blood, dead skin and body secretions. They include head lice, body lice and pubic lice (also known as crabs). The commonality between all three types is that they affix themselves to hair.

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Lice infestations, or pediculosis, are highly contagious. They spread through direct contact or the sharing of hairbrushes, hats, clothing, towels and more. Once infected, it's pretty easy to figure out that lice are your problem. If your scalp, or another body part, becomes continuously and aggressively itchy, run a fine-toothed louse comb through the hair. If you notice whitish yellow specks on the comb, you're looking at nits, the discarded shells from hatched lice.

If you do have lice, a special shampoo or treatment with a chemical pediculide is necessary. The wash may need to be repeated if some lice remain after the first treatment. The other important step to getting rid of lice is laundering all clothes and linens in hot water.

The next parasite is just as tiny and just as feared.

Bedbugs are only about the size of an apple seed, but their presence can be daunting. Not only do they produce welts, they hide in mattresses (and other types of furniture) where they're hard to eliminate. These nocturnal creatures also tend to prey on us when we're most defenseless -- during our sleep.

You might be wondering just how these bothersome creatures enter our lives. After all, at one time they had all but disappeared from most industrial countries. The answer is that increased international travel and multi-country pesticide restrictions have multiplied their numbers and transplanted them. One of the most common locations for bed bugs to hitch rides to and from is hotel beds. So if you bring some back home with you, you must use insecticides and steam cleaning to thoroughly eliminate them.

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While bedbugs aren't as likely as other parasites to carry disease, scratching their bites can lead to infections. To alleviate itching, try using a hydrocortisone cream.

Keep reading for the next parasite on our list.

This parasite is miniscule -- about 0.02 inches in size, to be exact, but it can create damage many times bigger. Scabies mites are responsible for creating mange (also known as scabies) infection in humans, pets and other domesticated animals. They burrow under the skin to feed and lay eggs, and the body's reaction to this causes intense itching; a scaly, flaking rash; and thickened skin.

Scabies mites usually enter the skin through their hosts' hands or feet, but they are known to spread from there. While in residence in their new home, these parasites lay eggs that hatch within days. The new larvae then begin burrowing, growing and mating. In essence, multiple generations of scabies mites (each with a typical existence of a few months) can spend their entire life cycles beneath their host's skin.

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If you don't want to be the new home of scabies mites and their offspring, learn to spot their presence so you can eliminate them. The mites, which are spread through contact with infected animals, people and their possessions, leave burrowing tracks. These can be hard to identify if you also have a lot of scratch marks, so rub the itchy area with ink then wipe it with alcohol -- the tracks will then show up.

Just as with the other skin parasites we've mentioned, you should remove scabies mites by disinfecting your environment and washing linens, fabrics and clothing in hot water. A doctor may prescribe an antiparasitic to treat your outbreak, especially if it's a severe form known as crusted scabies.

Keep reading for lots more information on parasites, pests and skin infections.

Related Articles

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