L.A. County announces plan to combat typhus among homeless

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The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unveiled their plan to combat a Typhus outbreak that has gripped the Southland.

The approved pilot program will aggressively combat typhus in homeless encampments by coordinating street clean-up, securing housing for the homeless, and providing mobile showers and flea repellent for those who insist on staying on the street.

Typhus, spread by fleas living on cats, rats and opossums, is native to Southern California, experts say. Typhus cannot spread from person-to-person. Symptoms include high fever, chills, headache and rash. If not treated with antibiotics, the disease can also lead to hospitalization or even death. Experts say anyone working with animals should watch out. Animals themselves aren’t affected by the disease, which can make it even more difficult to spot.

Part of the problem, according to county health experts, lies in the fact that Skid Row rats aren’t scared of humans, putting homeless people in Downtown Los Angeles in extreme risk of the disease.

“When I drive through parts of my district and I see the living conditions on the street, it reminds me of a third-world country,” Supervisor Kathryn Barger said. “We provide showers and they still remain in filthy conditions.”

The county is already reaching out to offer services and housing to people living in homeless encampments, but those efforts aren’t always closely coordinated with street clean-up aimed at keeping trash, sewage and the rat population under control, County Supervisors said.

Barger also recommended a Housing for Public Health pilot program to identify areas at a heightened risk of exposure to typhus and other communicable diseases.

Cases reported by the Los Angeles Department of Public Health so far this year total 64, compared to 67 cases in the full 12 months of 2017. That does not include cases in Long Beach or Pasadena, which run health agencies independent from the county.

Pasadena has been disproportionately impacted, confirming 20 cases of typhus to date in 2018, as compared with a history of one to five cases annually. Long Beach has more than doubled its historical rate of cases, with a total of 13 reported to date. At least nine of the Los Angeles County cases occurred in downtown Los Angeles, all among homeless people who ended up hospitalized.

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