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Once spring break rolls around, the beach is the place to be for college students. Beach landscapes are preferred destinations for tourists; and even those who live on the coast never seem to grow bored of their sandy habitat. Just about everyone can find something enjoyable to do at the beach, whether it be surfing, boogie boarding, sunbathing or fishing. Of course, many things can go wrong during a beach vacation, such as drowning, threats from jellyfish, sharks and other marine predators, as well as getting sand stuck in your bathing suit. Visiting the beach also comes with the risk of infection, as disease-causing bacteria can spread among crowds of swimmers. But serious infectious diseases can also be transmitted to humans from beach-dwelling insects, mainly certain flea species. Those who have visited a beach in South or Central America may have something to say about sand fleas, as tourists often sustain flea bites to their legs while visiting Latin American beaches or certain coastal regions of Europe. Luckily, sand fleas rarely transmit serious infections to humans, but when exceptions occur, they can be deadly.

Sand fleas can transmit parasites that burrow beneath a person’s skin, but with the exception of five recent cases, no life-threatening sand flea infections have been recorded for the past 50 years. Not long ago, five people from Colombia were each found by doctors to have thousands of sand fleas embedded within their skin. This appalling amount of sand fleas nearly drained each victim of all of their blood. One of the victims even required a blood transfusion to address his advanced case of anemia, and all five of the victims were unable to move as a result of being saturated with fleas.

Sand fleas can transmit a parasitic disease known as “tungiasis,” which can be life-threatening. Sand fleas suck so much blood that they can increase their body size by a factor of 2,000 in order to accommodate weeks worth of sucked blood. So a person found with thousands of these fleas embedded within his/her skin is not expected to live long. Luckily, after aggressive treatments, all five victims recovered.

Have you ever sustained flea bites while at a beach?