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Fleas in human hair
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Fleas in human hair

Dear Dr. Rockoff,  
I came across a posting in the Dermatology Forum from ShellyDel on 6/18/05 regarding sand fleas in the human hair.  My Mom has the identical problem and has been suffering from that now for about 9 months.  She too was in the Florida Keys in February of last year and has had "flea" problems now since July of last year.  She too has been to several dermatologists, internal medicine practitioners, and recently (as you recommended) a parasitologist.  Like ShellyDel, she too has tried topical Permethrin and other treatments for scabies (although that has now been ruled out) ever since July 2005.  She has something in her ears and her hair that continue to bite her (and occassionally bite my Father as well but he doesn't seem to be infested like she is).  They have treated their home for fleas several times.  They have gotten rid of their old couches and other furniture, steam clean their hard wood floors once per week, and wash the bedding and towels twice a day in hot water.  Even with all of that, my Mom continues to suffer from bites to her face on a daily basis.  There is definitely something there because she has red itchy bumps on her face and ears and she says she can feel them biting her when she showers or tries to treat them with chemicals.  She has tried internal medications, and topical treatments to the point where she must have so much pesticide on her skin and in her body that perhaps this is why she continues to have problems.  She is becomming clinically depressed and sad because of this battle with the bugs.  Do you have any ideas, suggestions, recommendations as to what she can try next?  She swears there are bugs on her but none of the biopsies or specimens have yielded any results.  Please help us.  And if ShellyDel is anywhere out there, can you please post a response to this thread and let me know what you tried next and what the outcome was?  
Thank you for any help you can give us.
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I will tell you what I think, although I am not sure you will find it plausible.  I think your mother may well have the sense and conviction that she has bugs but in fact she does not.  The feeling of being bitten does not mean there are actual bugs biting.  The presence of bumps does not prove they are bites--they may be spots your mother is squeezing because she thinks they are bites.

I know of no bugs that would do what you say has happened--they wouldn't be localized to the face, other people would have them, and, most important, you could see them.  Did the parasitologist see a bug?  I can't imagine he or she did.

What to do?  Patients with problems like your mother's--and there are more than a few--are very resistant to the notion that what they are feeling amounts to a delusion.  Nevertheless, unless you and her physicians gently but firmly broach this, I don't see an end to her problem.  There are medications, familiar to medically-oriented psychiatrists, which can help.  She needs psychiatric help, not pesticides on the skin.  I advise you to work with your dermatologist to find the right referral.

I assume you will be skeptical, and your mother more so.  If so, you will need to actually find the bugs and show them to someone.

Good luck.

Dr. Rockoff
5 Comments
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I am not a doctor, but want to give you an example that goes along with Dr. Rockoff's answer.  My brother had scabies, and it took a LONG time since he finally got rid of all the symtpoms (itching, little bumps on skin).  During this time he continued to apply various medicines against scabies because he thought that none were working.  Later we found out that the scabies (adult) were killed probably with the first medicine he took, but the dermatitis continued for weeks.  During this time he also had feelings that bugs were biting him, and developed some mood changes because of this feeling of losing a battle with these bugs...He is OK now, the bumps and itching finally disappeared.  All the best to your mom.
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I just read what the lady had to say about her bugs.  I am having the same problem and the bites are fresh.  They must be in there deep and form a saliva cacoon because they have like a scab and they bite underneath.  I am having problems.  I even went to the Vet who takes care of my dog for bugs and he said I didnt have them.  I am a very sane person and I feel that they lay eggs and we might kill the first but the second hatches.  Im at my wits end also.  I have put alchol,peroxide and also use a detox shampoo to NO avail.  What next?
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Could it be perhaps a perperhal{sp] nerve problem where her nerve endings are inflamed to the point where it feels like "bugs" atre biting her. I don't doubt that the sand fleas bit her, they are vicious little things.  I have a seizure disorder and I'm on Topamax and I have numbness and tingling in my hands. Topamax makes me have "hot flashes" and it feels like bugs are biting me.
I'm not saying DR Rockoff isn't correct about his assessment.
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Can herpes get in your head hair line?  I had some itching and burning for a few days now and wondered if they are actually herpes sores.
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A related discussion, human fleas in hair was started.
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