Los Angeles County responds to flea-borne typhus outbreak

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Los Angeles County is in the grip of a flea-borne typhus outbreak, Los Angeles County officials said today as they called for for public health departments and city agencies to work together against the disease.

Transmitted by fleas, most often via feral cats, opossums and rats, typhus can cause high fever, chills, headache and rash. If not treated with antibiotics, the disease can also lead to hospitalization or even death.

County officials are still working on their preliminary response alongside Los Angeles County’s Department of Public Health, major animal control and trash collection agencies in L.A. County. 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.

To prevent typhus, health departments recommend using flea-control products on pets, using insect repellent containing DEET and avoiding wild or stray animals. Another important precaution involves trash cans. Open disposal units can attract animals carrying fleas, so Angelenos are being advised to use cans with secure lids.

The recent typhus outbreak downtown represents about 15 percent of the 59 cases identified by the Department of Public Health this year, according to Barger. Six of the nine downtown cases were contracted by homeless individuals and all nine were hospitalized for treatment, according to officials.

The county total reflects an upward trend over at least the last three years, with 67 cases reported for the full year 2017. That does not include cases in Long Beach or Pasadena, both of which have been disproportionately impacted.

In Pasadena, 20 cases of typhus have been confirmed in 2018, as compared with a history of one to five cases annually. Long Beach has had double its historical rate of cases, with a total of 12 reported to date.

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