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CASE REPORT

AAEM

Ann Agric Environ Med 2004, 11, 343–346

HUMAN INFESTATION BY PIGEON FLEAS (CERATOPHYLLUS COLUMBAE) FROM FERAL PIGEONS

Daniel Haag-Wackernagel1  

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1Institute of Anatomy, University of Basel, Switzerland Department of Occupational Biohazards, Institute of Agricultural Medicine, Lublin, Poland Department of Dermatology, VU University Medical Centre, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Haag-         Ceratophyllus columbae) from feral pigeons. Ann Agric Environ Med 2004, 11, 343–346.

Abstract: The report concerns a married couple who were repeatedly invaded by pigeon fleas (Ceratophyllus columbae) over a period of 2 months. The source of the fleas was a pair of breeding feral pigeons (Columba livia). The birds’ nest was located in the attic immediately above the couple’s apartment, and the fleas found their way along an unsealed heating pipe. The people encountered up to 40 bites per night. With invasions repeated almost every night, the man gradually developed an allergic urticarial reaction. The most traumatic experience for the couple, however, was to learn that they were invaded by fleas (initially, they had presumed they were bothered by mosquitoes). This information resulted in severe psychological distress with phobic reactions and insomnia. Despite the successful removal of the fleas and the pigeons that were source of the pest, parasitophobia of the man persisted over the following 4 months. This case is discussed from the broader aspect of health risks related to feral pigeons and animal fleas. Also summarised are previous observations on people invaded by pigeon fleas.

Address for correspondence: Prof. Daniel Haag-Wackernagel, Institute of Anatomy, University of Basel, Pestalozzistrasse 20, CH-4056 Basel, Switzerland. E-mail: daniel.haag@unibas.ch

Key words: zoonoses, pigeon flea, Ceratophyllus columbae, human infestation, insect bites, allergic reactions, urticaria, parasitophobia, animal vectors, feral pigeons, Columba livia.

Feral pigeons (street pigeons) pose a considerable health risk to the population. They are vectors of infectious diseases and a source of antigens causing allergic diseases. Breeding sites of the birds harbour parasites that may attack humans. The present article deals with the invasion of 2 persons by pigeon fleas (Ceratophyllus columbae) from a nest of feral pigeons.

CASE DESCRIPTION

Patients’ history. A 34-year-old Swiss male (described here as Mr X) and his 30-year-old Ecuadorian wife (Mrs

X) have lived for several years in the fourth floor of an old house in the centre of Lucerne (Switzerland). At the end of February 2004, Mr X noted on his hip two vesicular skin lesions of 1 mm diameter, surrounded by erythematous patches of approximately 1.5 cm diameter, which were apparently due to bites of an insect. Since then, almost every morning, he found 8–10 new bite marks on each leg, typically ordered in lines each of 3–4 marks. At the bite sites, red indurated itching papules developed, surrounded by erythema that would persist for up to 2 weeks. Gradually, urticarial reactions to the bites developed in the form of wheals of approximately 1 cm

Received: 20 September 2004 Accepted: 19 November 2004

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