Flea-Borne Typhus

Right on the heels of our posts on fleas and ticks we received a letter from the LA County Department of Public Health about a flea-borne disease that can be transmitted to humans and has had an upswing in occurrences in recent weeks. A portion of the letter follows, and then a page describing the disease:

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (Public Health) is investigating an outbreak involving several cases of flea-borne typhus in people in downtown Los Angeles. Nine cases have been reported in people living or working in the area between July and September 2018. Although cases of flea-borne typhus are reported every year in LA County, geographic clusters of the size occurring in downtown Los Angeles are unusual. Public Health is working with the City of Los Angeles to implement environmental safety measures to reduce the spread of the disease.

Flea-borne typhus is a disease that infected fleas can spread to humans. Bacteria (Rickettsia typhi and R. felis) found in infected fleas, and their feces, spread the disease. In Los Angeles County, the primary animals known to carry infected fleas include rats, cats, and opossums. People with significant exposure to fleas from these animals are at risk of acquiring flea-borne typhus. Pet dogs and cats that are allowed outside, and that are not treated with flea-control products, are more likely to come into contact with infected fleas and carry them to humans. Although pets and other animals do not get sick from typhus, it can cause high fever, chills, headache, and rash in people. The illness can be treated in people with antibiotics. Typhus is not transmitted person-to-person.

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