How to prevent sand flea bites

Sand flea infestation


The sand flea disease Tungiasis is a consequence of infection by sand fleas (Tunga penetrans). The parasite infestation is a harmless progressive, albeit often annoying and associated with secondary infections disease.


Originally, sand fleas only occurred in Brazil. From here they spread from the 16th century in the Caribbean, throughout South America and in Africa south of the Sahara. In the meantime, sand fleas can also survive in Mediterranean regions due to global warming.

Tungiasis, a sand flea disease, is a typical disease of poverty. In some regions of Brazil, for example, three quarters of five to nine year olds are infested with sand fleas. In Central Europe, sand flea disease is only observed among travelers returning from areas where the disease is widespread.


The only one millimeter tall female sand fleas lurk in the sand and attack passing victims in order to immediately dig into the skin between the toes or under the toenails. After 30 minutes to several hours you will have worked your way to the next blood vessel. The rear part of the flea remains above the surface of the skin and is visible there as a small black point.

As soon as sand fleas have sucked blood for the first time, they can swell up to a size of twelve millimeters. As soon as a male passing by by chance fertilizes the female, it starts laying several thousand eggs. These fall through the exposed abdomen opening to the ground, where they develop into larvae and finally into sand fleas. The female dies after three to five weeks and is rejected as a foreign body by the skin.


Anyone who comes into contact with the tiny black fleas usually complains of numerous, severely itchy stings shortly after the attack. These can ignite within a short time. After a day or two, the area around the puncture turns whitish and begins to swell. The area to the rest of the skin is soon sharply demarcated, shiny and plump. Egg-laying begins after two to three weeks. The area around the sting hurts and a foreign body sensation develops.

Bacteria can also penetrate through the small skin injuries, which can cause a superinfection to develop on the small, harmless stab wound. Even a tetanus infection can develop.


The complications associated with a sand flea bite require early diagnosis and therapy. The disease can be determined by examining the skin closely with a magnifying glass. This has to happen over a longer period of time, as the appearance can vary greatly depending on the stage.

Treatment / therapy

To prevent itching, scratching, and bacterial infection, sand fleas should always be surgically removed by the doctor and not pushed out yourself. Local antibiotic therapy is sometimes also prescribed to combat secondary infections.


The best precaution against sand flea infestation is to protect the feet with well-fitting footwear. In areas of distribution, one should not walk barefoot in the sand. It is also helpful to apply insecticidal agents such as sprays, creams or lotions to feet and shoes.

Differential diagnosis

An infestation by other parasites can show symptoms similar to those of tungiasis. It can also happen that a sand flea infestation is mistaken for a wart or abscess.