Flea-borne typhus: Los Angeles Is Dealing With an Outbreak

Henrietta Strickland
October 12, 2018

The typhus outbreak in Southern California has spread to a third city, and pet owners there have been surprised to hear of the uptick in the flea-borne disease.

The county total reflects an upward trend over at least the last three years, with 67 cases reported for the full year 2017. In Long Beach, there were reported 12 cases this year, which is double the number reported in past years, officials said.

"Although typhus normally occurs throughout LA County, we are observing several cases in the downtown Los Angeles area", said Muntu Davis, MD, MPH, Los Angeles County Health Officer in a recent statement.

Flea-borne typhus (also called murine typhus) is caused by the bacteria (Rickettsia typhi) and is transmitted by infected fleas, which enter the skin through scratching following a bite or an any cuts or scrapes.

In the Los Angeles area, infected fleas are most often carried by rats, feral cats and opossums. Humans are a dead-end host for flea-borne typhus.

Health officials from Public Health are gathering additional information to pinpoint the exact locations of the cases in downtown LA. Details have not been revealed about the ill, but officials indicate that some, not all, of the cases have been reported in homeless people. Symptoms occur 7 to 14 days after exposure, and typically include abrupt onset of fever, headache, chills, myalgia, abdominal pain, or vomiting.

To prevent typhus, health departments recommend using flea-control products on pets, using insect repellent containing DEET and avoiding wild or stray animals.

Keep debris out of your yard, trim any unruly vegetation to keep wild animals away. This includes making sure your cats and dogs are free of fleas.

This is an ongoing investigation and the Los Angeles Department of Health will continue to provide updates as they become available.

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