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Flea-Borne Typhus Spreads Across Los Angeles Area

A rise in typhus, a bacterial disease spread by lice or fleas, has hit the Los Angeles area, and public health officials are sounding the alarm.

Posted: Oct 8, 2018 2:47 PM

(CNN) -- A rise in typhus, a bacterial disease spread by lice or fleas, has hit the Los Angeles area, and public health officials are sounding the alarm.

As of Monday, there have been 57 cases of flea-borne typhus in Los Angeles County, the county Department of Public Health said.

On Thursday, the department announced that officials are investigating an outbreak of flea-borne typhus in downtown Los Angeles, and they are working with the city to implement environmental safety measures to help reduce the spread of the disease.

Between July and September, the county identified nine cases of flea-borne typhus associated with downtown Los Angeles, and six of those cases were in people experiencing homelessness, according to the county.

"Although typhus normally occurs throughout LA County, we are observing several cases in the downtown Los Angeles area," Dr. Muntu Davis, the county's health officer, said in Thursday's announcement.

"We encourage pet owners to practice safe flea control and encourage all cities in the county to ensure maintenance of their trash clean-up and rodent control activities," he said.

On Friday, one city in the county -- Pasadena -- reported epidemic levels of typhus fever. This year, 20 Pasadena residents have been confirmed to have typhus fever, up from the expected one to five cases per year, according to the Pasadena Public Health Department.

"Typhus fever is a disease that can cause serious complications requiring lengthy hospitalization, and rarely, death," Dr. Ying-Ying Goh, Pasadena's health officer, said in the city's Friday announcement.

She encouraged all residents to take precautions to prevent fleas in and around their homes.

Such precautions include keeping yards free of debris and trimming overgrown vegetation, not leaving pet food outdoors, not providing food or water for wild animals, keeping garbage containers tightly covered, sealing crawlspaces under the home and routinely treating pets with flea control medication.

"Since the disease is spread by fleas, it is possible that endemic typhus could be transmitted year-round. Right now, it's hard to speculate on why we are seeing more cases. There is an ongoing investigation by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health that seeks to answer this question," said Anne Rimoin, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of California, Los Angeles Fielding School of Public Health.

As to whether the typhus outbreak could spread any farther, she said, "a thorough public health investigation will provide clues as to whether or not we should expect a rise in cases elsewhere."

Flea-borne typhus can spread to humans from bacteria found in infected fleas and their feces. Symptoms can start within two weeks of contact with the infected flea and can include high fever, chills, headache, body aches and rash, according to Los Angeles County.

"Flea-borne typhus is naturally occurring in Los Angeles County and is caused by two bacteria, Rickettsia typhi and R. felis," Rimoin said. "There are several things that people can do to prevent flea-borne typhus fever. The most important preventive measure is to minimize exposure to fleas. Pets, yards and homes should be kept free of fleas."

Fatalities are uncommon, occurring in less than 1% of cases, and the disease can be treated with antibiotics, according to the county.

Nationwide, diseases transmitted through the bites of blood-feeding ticks, mosquitoes and fleas have been a "growing public health problem," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A CDC report published in May found that reported cases of such vector-borne diseases more than tripled across the country between 2004 and 2016.

Though rare, plague was the most common flea-borne disease included in that data.

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 125738

Reported Deaths: 4529
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Los Angeles610682569
Riverside8777355
San Diego7940288
Orange7064174
San Bernardino5930217
Alameda3725101
Santa Clara2892144
San Francisco269843
Imperial256833
Kern253445
San Mateo229988
Tulare211692
Fresno201440
Santa Barbara173714
Contra Costa157738
Sacramento151959
Kings14526
Ventura121635
San Joaquin105036
Stanislaus81631
Monterey64010
Sonoma6104
Solano56522
Marin53017
Merced3207
San Luis Obispo2911
Placer2659
Santa Cruz2212
Yolo21624
Madera1413
Napa1293
Humboldt1044
San Benito1022
El Dorado1020
Butte651
Sutter512
Nevada491
Del Norte470
Shasta424
Mono371
Mendocino330
Yuba311
Lake300
Inyo201
Calaveras190
Glenn170
Mariposa161
Amador100
Siskiyou90
Tehama71
Colusa70
Lassen60
Tuolumne50
Plumas40
Alpine20
Trinity20
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Much cooler with gusty winds and the potential for active weather this weekend.
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