Typhus: What You Need to Know

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Flea under magnifying glass in old book
Typhus doesn’t spread from person to person—it’s carried by fleas and other insects.

Typhus is always present in Los Angeles, but the number of cases has recently spiked.

Typhus is a bacterial infection that causes high fever, chills, headaches, muscle aches, and rashes.

“If you’re exposed to contact with fleas, either from domestic animals or wild animals—including outdoor pets—or you spend a lot of time outdoors, you’re at risk of developing typhus.”

It can be treated with antibiotics, but the disease can lead to serious complications if left untreated. In rare cases, those can include meningitis—inflammation of the brain and spinal cord—and death.

The average number of typhus cases reported between 2013 and 2017 was about 60 cases per year. From the beginning of 2018 to the end of February 2019, the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Health reported over 100 cases of flea-borne typhus.

Additional cases have been reported in cities that have their own public health departments, including Pasadena and Long Beach.

Typhus doesn't spread from person to person—it's carried by fleas and other insects. Click To Tweet

Risks and symptoms

“If you’re exposed to contact with fleas, either from domestic animals or wild animals—including outdoor pets—or you spend a lot of time outdoors, you’re at risk of developing typhus,” says Dr. Michael Ben-Aderet, associate medical director of Hospital Epidemiology at Cedars-Sinai.

Typhus doesn’t spread from person to person—it’s carried by fleas and other insects.

Fleas, mites, lice, or ticks carrying the bacteria can infect you when they bite your skin. Scratching the itchy bite then gives the bacteria greater access to your blood stream where it can reproduce and grow.

Call your doctor if you develop these symptoms:

  • Fever and chills
  • Body aches and muscle pain
  • Vomiting, nausea, or loss of appetite
  • Rash on your chest, back, arms, or legs

Read: Measles: What You Need to Know


Preventing typhus

There are steps you can take to minimize your typhus risk.

Here are steps Dr. Ben-Aderet recommends to avoid typhus and help stop it from spreading:

  • Keep rodents and animals away from your home, workplace, and recreational areas.
  • Remove brush, rock piles, junk, cluttered firewood, and food supplies—especially pet food.
  • Make sure your yard isn’t an attractive place for animals to nest. Close up crawl spaces and attics. Trim vegetation and lawns. Cover up trash cans.
  • Keep your pets free of fleas using topical or oral medications. Check with your vet for the best flea-control plan for your pet.
  • Keep your pets inside as much as possible. Animals who go outside are more likely to come in contact with fleas and could bring them inside.
  • Use insect repellant that is labeled for use against fleas. This is a must if you’re going camping, hiking, or working outdoors.
  • Avoid petting or feeding stray animals.

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