2 December 2004

Aunty B tackles the fleas

Alternative title: Why Bee currently smells like a hippies' outdoor party and she has been vacuuming at 9pm on a Thursday night.

I have a confession to make. My house has a flea infestation. No pet has lived here since September, 2004. This has been affecting my sense of self-worth, my relationships with flatmates and guests, and my personal comfort level when tormented by a galaxy of itchy red lumps all over my legs.

I have finally however decided to come clean, admit to the problem and take steps towards a flea-free existence. Tonight has been my 6-legged parasite catharsis. And funnily enough, these horribly successful products of evolution are teaching me some of life's lessons that my dear old responsible Dad has been trying to drum in verbally for a lifetime.

So seeing as I am sitting in the office, coated in citronella oil (neat), wearing a fumigated dressing gown with the air conditioning on "freeze dry motherfucker" setting, suffering the solitary pain of the invertebrate warrior, I may as well share my sad sorry tale of woe. One part of me wants to keep this deep dark secret out of the light of polite society. But I am your ever compassionate Aunty B, and where I've learnt the hard way , I hope just one person can share my personal revelation simply through reading a blog when they should be doing some paid work. You will live a better life, I promise.

Disgusting flea fact #1: Adult fleas excrete poorly-digested congealed blood. They then live off this indefinitely when there are no mammals in the vicinity.

It all started in August this year, when the aging cat house-guest (its a long story) started itching more noticeably than before.

Oh darnit, that's a lie. It started back in bloody 2003, about 3 months after said cat first left my residence with his owner, for a better life in another suburb with a backyard. The weather warmed up, and lo and behold, a small cocktail party of adult fleas hatched in my flat.
They got transferred from the guest bed out back to my bed, via a swapped doona. The housemate of the time noticed them and so did his lovely companion with the silicon-enhanced figure. So I promptly bought 2 flea bombs at a cost of approx $14.95 and fumigated the 2 problem rooms. Bear in mind, gentle reader, these have wooden floorboards, and the only soft furnishings are bedding. Apparently - problem solved. No fleas for around 6 months.

Important Life lesson #1: Never assume you can deal with a problem just once and never have to tend to it again.

So, fast forward to about July this year. Cat is back for a medium-term boarding arangement. The small furry one has been sleeping in B's boudoir, making poor substitute for Bizarro who is away promoting the forces of good. He has also been whingeing for attention far more often. Bizzo returns, cat is banished from bed while humans occupy it, however still craves close physical contact (the cat, alright!). Concurrently, two fresh new housemates arrive, to partake in the joy of communal living.

Meantime, Aunty B has started to become tormented by itchy, crawly feeling whenever the feline is in proximity so is glad to have him out of the room. She vigorously washes all the sheets. The shapely but happily silicon-free Betty Sue starts to notice red itchy lumps whenever she spends her television hour watching Kath and Kim in the back room. Oddly, the boys in the household remain unaffected, however the ever-considerate Bizarro does wash out all the couch covers as a gesture of solidarity.

Betty Sue buys the cat a flea collar, and makes liberal use of powder. Aunty B arranges for cat to find alternate accommodation. She puts off further pest control until there will be no mammals in the house during the day.

Important Life Lesson #2: Never, ever, put off a difficult task if it is something that will make marked improvement to your mental or physical health. A stitch in time saves nine, my friends.

Housemates move out in early September to the pre-planned love nest in another inner-city suburb. I suspect the growing flea volume hastened their departure. Aunty B gleefully turns to the bombs again thinking "ah ha! This was so easy last time- goodbye forever hideous beasts."

Disgusting flea fact #2: Approximately 5% of a flea population are adults at any one time. That means for every horrible jumping menace there are around another 10 in egg, pupae or larvae stage.

When Aunty B returns home after bombing day - all living creatures in the house are dead, including daddy long legs, cockroaches and flies. That'll show 'em, she thinks.

Three more weeks pass. No flea problem. New groovy housemates appear.

Fleas resurface.

Housemates in terrible polite English fashion point out that there may, in fact, be more than the desired number of species living in the house. Which of course is a very lovely house, mind you. The lovely lass part of the new couple even offers to buy a flea spray, as she is the worst affected by bites. Oh okay, I may have kind of suggested/bullied her into it. A bit.

Important Life Lesson #3: Take responsibility for problems of your own making.

The spray seems to have controlled the population in the couch. All good. Once again long suffering Aunty B washes the darn couch covers, cushions and all bedding, airs the main doona and the guest doona, washes the front and back room rugs. Housemates do the same. She surface sprays her own mattress, including underneath, and airs the room at the same time. Sadly, during this uber-wash day, she leaves a lot of soft furnishing on the line while out having a boozy lunch with Betty Sue, which then gets caught in a classic Sydney downpour. Most is dried but some is a little damp and has to finish drying inside. In the washing basket.

Disgusting flea fact #3: Fleas have been around for millions of years - a fossilized flea found in Australia is said to be 200 million years old. It does not differ significantly from today's fleas. They live on penguins, for Pete's sake.

Fast forward to this week. Aunty B has been interstate for a few days. While she was away her room was closed, dark and the big bad city hit 40 degrees C two days running. The humble home office has now become a perfect flea breeding ground.

Now, your old flea ridden author has more itchy lumps on her legs than she can count, is sleeping badly, is getting out of bed well before 8AM to escape torment, and cannot wear skirts to work for fear of her terrible secret being revealed. This evening, I walked into the office, a little humid den, and within about 3.7 seconds had three little bastards on one ankle and four crawling on the other. Yes I counted. I'm like that.

In sheer frustration I turned to the internet. That is how I now know a collection of disgusting flea facts. Guess what? the best natural method of flea control is vacuuming. Every day. And burning the dust bag. It sucks them and their eggs from the carpet and eventually breaks the life cycle. Cheap surface sprays really only deal with adults. (See disgusting fact #2).

Guess what is Aunty B's least favorite household chore? Guess who has grotty floors and rugs?
Yup. The other thing fleas need to thrive is moisture or humid conditions. Bingo. So another control method is to dry them out, then they kinda die of thirst and hunger after hoovering up all their food.

Important Life Lessons #4, #5 and #6. Don't put off the vacuuming. Don't leave damp clothes in the washing basket. Always keep up simple, regular maintenance against outbreaks of bad juju - its better than having to deal with the consequences of a long period of denial.

One flea website even has direct advice: "Do not leave the problem until it has become so serious that your pet is really uncomfortable and you have fleas jumping all over the place, especially to.. [the point of] ... household infestation, as this will become very difficult to control. The longer you leave things the more serious the situation will get and the more difficult then to remove. "

I feel this statement applies to many important facets of life.

So thank you,
Ctenocephalides felis

No comments: