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Typhus (Flea-borne)

What is flea-borne typhus?

Flea-borne typhus is a bacterial disease caused by Rickettsia typhi and possibly Rickettsia felis. Human cases of flea-borne typhus are reported worldwide, but primarily in tropical and coastal areas. In the United States, most cases occur in Texas, California, and Hawaii with an average of about 200 cases every year. Flea-borne typhus is considered endemic (always present) in areas of Los Angeles and Orange counties, but cases are also occasionally reported from other parts of California.

How do you get flea-borne typhus?

A person can become infected with typhus bacteria by the bite of an infectious flea. The bacteria can also be found in the feces of some fleas which can contaminate the skin surface while the flea is feeding. If the person scratches the flea bite area, some of the bacteria in the flea feces can enter the person’s blood stream.

What animals can carry the typhus bacteria?

In the United States, rats, opossums, and other small mammals can carry the typhus bacteria. Rat fleas (Xenopsylla cheopis) and cat fleas (Ctenocephalides felis) are most commonly associated with disease transmission. Fleas may become infected when they feed on these animals and then can transmit the bacteria to humans, pet dogs, and cats.

What are the symptoms of flea-borne typhus?

Although most illnesses are mild and undetected, many people infected with flea-borne typhus experience fever, headache, chills, and muscle aches 6 -14 days after the flea bite. Some people may also develop a rash that may begin on the chest and spreads to the sides and back. The majority of reported cases in California have required hospitalization.

How is flea-borne typhus diagnosed?

Flea-borne typhus is diagnosed through a combination of clinical symptoms and a blood test.

How is flea-borne typhus treated?

Flea-borne typhus is treated with antibiotics. Most people recover in a few days. Death from typhus is rare (2 - 4% without treatment, world-wide).

How can you prevent getting flea-borne typhus?

The key to preventing flea-borne typhus is to avoid direct contact with fleas. Discourage rats, opossums, feral cats, and other wild animals from visiting or living around your home by not leaving pet food outside, keeping garbage containers tightly covered, and by trimming and removing vegetation around buildings. Use flea control products on pet dogs or cats; keep cats indoors.

Where can I get more information on flea-borne typhus?

Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention typhus website (https://www.cdc.gov/typhus/index.html)
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