Flea Borne Plague Infects More Than a Dozen In L.A.
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA — October 8, 2018
A flea-borne plague is the latest health scare in the U.S.
The Los Angeles Country Department of Public Health had already recorded at least a dozen cases of flea-borne typhus as of Sunday. Many experts believe that the number of patients will grow rapidly.
All of those suffering from the condition live or work in the area — some homeless, health officials said.
Authorities warn that the disease occurs when feces from an infected insect come into contact with a cut or open wound or gets rubbed into somebody’s eye.
These fleas often live on feral cats and rats who are attracted to areas with trash on the streets.
Most patients endure a headache, fever, and rash, however, in severe cases, typhus can lead to life-threatening hepatitis and internal bleeding.
“Although typhus normally occurs throughout L.A. County, we are observing several cases in the downtown Los Angeles area,” the city’s county health officer Muntu Davis said in a statement.
He added, “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.”
Officials are investigating where exactly the cases occurred. NBC reports that a dozen people have been struck down.
Typhus usually affects around 200 people across the U.S. every year, according to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH).
Health officials were alerted to the outbreak when a cluster of nine cases occurred in downtown L.A. between July and August. The infection is endemic in parts of L.A. and Orange County, Southern California.
Fleas carrying the infection can live on cats, rats, or opossums, however, the animals themselves do not suffer any symptoms.
Typhus often spreads in areas where there is an accumulation of trash that attracts wild animals.
The infection cannot be transmitted from person-to-person and is treatable with antibiotics. There is no vaccine in the U.S.
Up to 4% of people worldwide who are untreated die, the CDPH claims.
To prevent infection, L.A.’s Public Health Department recommends that residents
- Use flea control on pets
- Tuck their pants into their socks or boots when outside
- Spray DEET on exposed areas
- Avoid wild or stray animals, especially rats, cats, and opossums
- Store trash in cans with secure lids to avoid attracting animals
- Clear areas where stray or feral animals may sleep, hide or seek food, such as attics and under decks
This comes after Texas experienced a flea-borne typhus outbreak around this time last year.
More than 400 cases occurred from the start of 2017 to the end of November—the highest number in 16 years.
What is the flea-borne typhus?
Endemic flea-borne typhus is a sporadic benign acute infectious disease caused by “Rickettsia typhi” and possibly “Rickettsia felis” transmitted through ectoparasites on mice and rats and feral and stray cats; it is characterized by a cyclic course with the appearance of a roseolus-papular rash on the skin.
It usually causes fever, headache, rash, muscle ache, and fever and chills, doctors say. In severe cases, patients can require hospitalization due to hepatitis or internal bleeding.
People are mainly infected from rats by the use of products contaminated with rodent feces. Infection also occurs in the case of rubbing infected flea excrement (sometimes lice) into the skin during combing or when it hits mucous eyes shells and the breathing tract. After that, the bacteria from the feces can enter the bloodstream. It can also be transmitted via bites from infected mites.
Incidents are sporadic among people, usually in the summer and autumn when such animals are more active. The disease is widespread in the world, and is endemic in parts of L.A. and Orange County. The disease also often occurs in Texas and Hawaii.
Around 200 cases occur every year throughout the U.S., particularly in coastal regions.
Symptoms then appear 6 to 14 days later.
Flea-borne typhus can be treated via antibiotics, with most people recovering within a few days.
Between 2 and 4% of people who do not receive treatment die worldwide.
Flea-borne typhus can be prevented by avoiding contact with fleas via:
- Discouraging wild animals around the home
- Keeping rubbish covered
- Using flea control on pets
Due to the infection taking up to two weeks to show symptoms, the exact number of those infected is unclear.