OUTBREAK In LA: Flea-Borne Typhus Has Reached ‘Epidemic Levels’

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An outbreak of typhus has struck downtown Los Angeles. The outbreak has been blamed on the skyrocketing number of homeless people in the area.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Image Library Public Domain

According to the Los Angeles County Health Department, 20 cases of the rare, flea-borne infectious disease, which is also associated with poor sanitary conditions and overcrowding, have been recorded in Pasadena alone over the past two months. Health officials now say that the outbreak has reached “epidemic levels,” according to the New York Post. 

There are several forms of typhus, (also known as typhoid fever) which is a type of bacterial infection known as the species rickettsia and transmitted by biting bugs (arthropods) such as lice, ticks, mites, and rat fleas. When a person is diagnosed with typhus, it means they are infected with one or more types of rickettsia bacteria. After a bite occurs, scratching the itching bite further opens the skin and allows the bacteria greater access to the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, the bacteria continue to reproduce and grow.

According to Healthline, typhus outbreaks usually only occur in developing countries or in regions of poverty, poor sanitation, and close human contact. Typhus is generally not a problem in the United States, however, the outbreak has been declared an epidemic in Los Angeles, a highly-populated deeply dense city with a surging homeless population. Americans used to only need concern themselves with catching the infection abroad, but all that is changing thanks to the socialism of California.

Untreated typhus can lead to serious complications, and it’s potentially fatal. It’s important to see your doctor if you suspect that you may have typhus. Symptoms vary slightly by the type of typhus, but there are symptoms that are associated with all three types of typhus, such as, headache, fever, chills, and rash. In rare cases, typhus can cause meningitis or death.

Long Beach has seen 12 cases so far this year, double the normal number. And there have been nine other cases in the rest of the county, NBC News reported. Nationwide, there are only about 200 cases of the disease in an average year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. But the surge in flea-borne typhus appears to have been in response to the number of people living on the streets and in shelters, which has surged 75 percent to about 55,000 in the last six years. “There are lots of rats on Skid Row and there are lots of dogs that belong to homeless people,” Andy Bales, CEO of Union Mission Rescue, told NBC News.

The Los Angeles mayor’s office said the city has “formed a dedicated task force through our Unified Homelessness Response Center to keep Angelenos safe and ensure everyone gets the treatment they need as quickly as possible.” Specifically, they’re looking for “high concentrations of infected fleas and/or infected rats, feral cats and opossums,” reported the New York Post.

Officials in nearby Pasadena scoffed at the idea that the homeless are to blame for the typhus outbreak in their town. They point to the warm summer and fall and residents’ frequent interactions with animals in the wildlife and canyons of the nearby Angeles National Forest.

This is a guest post from SHTFplan by Mac Slavo

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CDC ADVICE

Epidemic typhus, also called louse-borne typhus, is an uncommon disease caused by a bacteria called Rickettsia prowazekii. Epidemic typhus is spread to people through contact with infected body lice. Though epidemic typhus was responsible for millions of deaths in previous centuries, it is now considered a rare disease. Occasionally, cases continue to occur, in areas where extreme overcrowding is common and body lice can travel from one person to another.  In the United States, rare cases of epidemic typhus, called sylvatic typhus, can occur. These cases occur when people are exposed to flying squirrels and their nests.

Signs and Symptoms

Xenopsylla cheopis, the Oriental rat flea

Figure 1: Pediculus humanus corporis,the human body louse.

Symptoms of epidemic typhus begin within 2 weeks after contact with infected body lice. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Fever and chills
  • Headache
  • Rapid breathing
  • Body and muscle aches
  • Rash
  • Cough
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion

Brill-Zinsser disease

Some people can remain infected, without symptoms, for years after they first get sick. Rarely, these individuals can have a relapse in disease, called Brill-Zinsser disease, months or years following their first illness. When this happens, it often occurs when the body’s immune system is weakened due to certain medications, old age, or illness. The symptoms of Brill-Zinsser disease are similar to the original infection, but are usually milder than the initial illness.

Diagnosis and Testing

  • The symptoms of epidemic typhus are similar to symptoms of many other diseases. See your health care provider if you develop the symptoms listed above following travel or contact with animals.
  • Tell your health care provider if you have had contact with flying squirrels or their nests.
  • Your health care provider will order a blood test to look for epidemic typhus and other diseases.
  • Laboratory testing and reporting of results can take several weeks. Your health care provider may start treatment before results are available.

Treatment

  • 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.

Prevention

Northern Flying Squirrel

Glaucomys volans, the southern flying squirrel.

  • There is no vaccine to prevent epidemic typhus.
  • Reduce your risk of getting epidemic typhus by avoiding overcrowded areas.
  • Body lice thrive in areas that are overcrowded and where people aren’t able to bathe or change clothes regularly. To avoid body louse infestations:
    • Bathe regularly and change into clean clothes at least once a week.
    • Wash louse-infested clothing at least once a week. Machine wash and dry infested clothing and bedding using hot water (at least 130°F), and dry on high heat when possible. Clothing and items that are not washable can be dry-cleaned OR sealed in a plastic bag and stored for 2 weeks.
    • Do not share clothing, beds, bedding, or towels used by a person who has body lice or is infected with typhus.
    • Treat bedding, uniforms, and other clothing with permethrin. Permethrin kills lice and may provide long-lasting protection for clothing for many washings. See product information to learn how long the protection will last. If treating items yourself, follow the product instructions carefully. Do NOT use permethrin products directly on skin. They are intended to treat clothing.
    • People should avoid contact with flying squirrels and their nests.