Typhus Outbreak Continues to Grow in California

There is currently an epidemic of typhus in Los Angeles, in the downtown area and other places in the extensive county.

Typhus is a bacterial disease spread by infected fleas. Public health officials in Los Angeles are still working to control the outbreak which is still on the rise.

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Nine cases of typhus have been observed From mid-July until early October, in the downtown area alone, says Sharon Balter, MD, director of the division of communicable disease for the L.A. County Department of Public Health.

Dr. Balter said all nine patients have a history of living or working in downtown L.A., but not all those affected are homeless. The downtown part of L.A. has a large population of homeless people.

Aaron Glatt, MD, chairman of medicine and hospital epidemiologist for South Nassau Communities Hospital, Oceanside, NY and spokesman for the Infectious Diseases Society of America said; “Homelessness, crowded housing, poor hygiene, poor toiletry habits all make it more possible to get typhus.”

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Balter says the number of cases is remarkably high in such a short period of time, adding that from January until early October, 59 cases have been documented. In 2017, there were 67 cases for the whole year. So she feared more this year’s number might excess last year if more cases are documented.

Pasadena has reported an additional 20 cases of typhus, which is up to four times as many as the city typically gets yearly.

Balter said typhus can be treated by taking antibiotics, adding that people can become very sick if they don’t get speedy treatment.

Symptoms of Typhus

Typhus is not normally spread from person to person.

Symptoms may become to materialize within 2 weeks of infection. Symptoms may include;

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Rash
  • Nausea and vomiting

The symptoms are indefinite, and people may mistake them for other flu-like conditions. Diagnosis of typhus can be confirmed by blood tests or a skin biopsy.

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The treatment is a 7- to 10-day course of antibiotics, usually doxycycline, says Glatt. “It’s very cheap” and effective, but it’s best if typhus is detected early.

Preventing Typhus

Balter advises people to prevent the disease by using flea control products on pets. The county plans to distribute flea collars to homeless people in L.A. for use on their pets. Also, garbage cans should be kept covered to avoid attracting rodents and other animals.

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