All Areas of Los Angeles Declared a Risk in Typhus Outbreak

LOS ANGELES, CA – LA City Councilman Joe Buscaino has called the Typhus outbreak a “crisis,” saying all areas of Los Angeles are at risk.

During a meeting on February 8th, Buscaino said, “Rats are emblematic of how we lost control over the trash and encampment issue.”

Muntu Davis, MD, Los Angeles County Health Officer, said, ” Flea-borne typhus is regularly found each year throughout Los Angeles County, and cases can cluster over periods of time in areas where environmental factors support infected fleas.”

According to a news release by LA Public Health, typhus is not transmitted person-to-person. Flea-borne typhus can spread to people from infected fleas and their feces.

Typhus infection can be prevented through flea control measures on pets, using insect repellent to avoid flea bites and clearing areas that can attract wild or stray animals like cats, rats, and opossums.

Symptoms of typhus include high fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, and rash in people. Call your doctor if you have symptoms; typhus can be treated with antibiotics.

People with prolonged outdoor exposure in close proximity to wildlife, including individuals experiencing homelessness are at risk of acquiring flea-borne typhus.

From 2013-2017, the average number of reported cases has doubled to nearly 60 cases per year. From 2018-to-date, there are a total of 107 cases of flea-borne typhus documented by Public Health (excluding Long Beach and Pasadena as cases identified in those cities are reported by their local health departments).

Public Health continues to interview those affected, to conduct surveillance activities related to those cases, and to work with other County departments and incorporated cities to reduce the environmental risk for typhus infections.

The 3 health departments in greater LA issued separate Typhus updates, for 2018: 

  • LA County: From 2013-2017, the average number of reported cases has doubled to nearly 60 cases per year. From 2018-to-date, there are a total of 107 cases of flea-borne typhus documented. Public Health continues to work with other County departments and incorporated cities, to reduce the environmental risk for Typhus infections.   
  • Long Beach: Department of Health and Human Services reported 20 cases of typhus in 2018, which tied with the highest year on record in 2016. The Health Department continues to provide education to residents, health care providers, and veterinarians, who all play an important part in stopping the spread of the disease in Long Beach.
  • Pasadena: Public Health Department (PPHD) is reporting epidemic levels of typhus fever in 2018, when 20 Pasadena residents were confirmed, which is well above the less than 5 cases per year. 

During 2018, 142 Typhus cases were confirmed in LA. 

According to the news release, to help prevent typhus:

Keep fleas off you and your pets.

  • Use flea control products on your pets.
  • Keep pets indoors.
  • Use EPA-registered insect repellent labeled for use against fleas.
  • Avoid being near wild or stray animals.
  • Do not leave pet food outdoors. Do not provide food or water for wild animals.
  • Maintain yard free of debris and trim overgrown plants and bushes.
  • Keep trash in containers that are tightly covered to avoid attracting animals.
  • Close up crawl spaces and openings under home where rats and stray animals can sleep, hide, or find food.
  • Address any stray cat, rodent or opossum issues on and near your property.

According to the CDC, Epidemic typhus should be treated with the antibiotic doxycycline. Doxycycline can be used in persons of any age.

Antibiotics are most effective when given soon after symptoms begin.

People who are treated early with doxycycline usually recover quickly.

For more information regarding flea-borne typhus, visit http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/media/typhus or call 2- 1-1.