Flea-Borne Typhus on Rise in OC

Twenty-seven people have contracted the illness this year in Orange County. It can cause severe headaches, high fevers and confusion, and may require hospitalization.

Health officials in Orange County are urging residents to help combat flea-borne typhus from latching onto pets and humans.

Flea-borne typhus, also known as endemic typhus and murine typhus, is a disease primarily transmitted to humans by feral cats, opossums and raccoons. According to a report from the Orange County Health Care Agency, 27 human cases of the disease have been reported this year, up from last year's 10 cases.

"The number of human cases since 2007 do seem to be rising steadily," Jared Dever, spokesman for the Orange County Vector Control District, said. "The infected fleas come in contact with the domestic animals and they can pick up these fleas and transmit them to humans."

Some people infected with flea-borne typhus will experience symptoms including a severe headache, a sustained high fever, body aches, weakness, confusion and a rash on the chest, back, arms and/or legs.

The reason behind the increase in flea-borne typhus is still unclear, but Dever said the spike in public awareness has resulted in better testing for and reporting of the disease.

When a case surfaces, the OCVCD will do a survey of backyard wildlife to determine the number of fleas found on those animals and a survey of other potential risk factors in a community surrounding a victim.

"Flea-borne typhus diagnosis requires that an initial blood test be performed while the patient is showing symptoms and illness,” Dever explained. "And a second blood test be conducted after symptoms have subsided to detect for the presence of antibodies to the bacteria that causes flea-borne typhus."

Unlike West Nile Virus, there is a cure for flea-borne typhus and Dever says, "It's entirely treatable and preventable."

To keep flea-borne typhus away from your home and pets, the county health department recommends the following tips:

  • Consult your veterinarian regarding safe flea control medications for your pets which can break the bridge of transmission between pets and humans
  • Keep your home and yard in good repair by removing overgrown vegetation and debris where rodents, opossums, and feral (wild) cats may hide
  • Keep screens on crawl space covers and vents in good repair 
  • Avoid contact with animals that carry fleas, and do not attempt to capture and relocate these animals to other areas
  • Eliminate all food and water sources around your home, including open trash cans, fallen fruit around the yard, pet food and bird feeders
  • When cleaning nesting areas of rats and opossums, spray area with disinfectant, and wear protective clothing and equipment (i.e., mask, goggles, gloves)
  • When treating your yard or animal harborage areas with insecticides, only use products labeled for flea control and follow all directions carefully

For more information about flea-borne typhus, visit the Orange County Vector Control District at ocvcd.org.

MFriedrich December 12, 2012 at 12:01 AM
"when you have a porous international border next to a 3rd world banana republic and virtually zero domestic immigration enforcement you are going to see the resurgence of diseases that were seemingly eradicated decades ago." I don't think typhus was ever "eradicated". It is a bacteria, not a virus. It is not on either the US or Mexico vaccination schedules, nor on the WHO vaccination schedule (which Mexico follows). So I don't think proximity of the two countries really matters re: typhus. There is a vaccine for it, but it's optional, and I don't think many people get it. This is probably because some pretty common antibiotics are very effective in treating typhus, like tetricycline and doxicycline. Typhus can definitely kill you, but it's one of those so-under-the-radar-I-can-still-kill-you diseases.
Andromeda December 12, 2012 at 04:22 AM
Shri, immigrants who come to america legally are required to get screened for illness, to include a chest xray for TB. So the chance of those referenced in the NE Journal of Medicine being illegal is very high. Why do you think they load the kids up on vaccines in school these days? I never had to get 15 vaccinations when I started school like they must today. It's because of the public schools are being infiltrated with banana republic immigrants. Everyone knows this. It's just that in our politically correct society most are afraid to say it. I'm not. :^) You need to go back to school and load up on some 'common sense' courses. Apparently you got shorted on those.
Joker Joe December 12, 2012 at 04:51 PM
copy and paste BERKELEY, Calif. (KABC) -- The University of California, Berkley has received a $1 million gift to fund the education of illegal immigrants. The money, donated by the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, is the largest gift for this type of scholarship ever at an American university. The 2011 California Dream Act made illegal immigrants eligible for privately funded college scholarships and state financial assistance.
Andromeda December 12, 2012 at 07:17 PM
Boy, times have sure changed, William. Back in my day that would have been referred to as 'aiding and abetting the enemy'. I am very very happy that I am as old as I am.
Kathi December 15, 2012 at 10:32 PM
Just wondering if typhus has always been around in the US? I had not been aware of it being an issue here before. I did get an immunization for it back in 77 before going overseas back in the 70s. My next door neighbor was a dr who was knowledgeable about those kinds of things so he gave me I think all but yellow fever immunization (which requires special care for the vaccine). Also back in 83-84, living in HB, I had a cat who was an outdoor cat (I don't think he would have been happy indoors all the time) who would wander & catch gophers in the wild. & they didn't have the type of flea control products they have now back then. I never heard anything about typhus so just wondering.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »