A California neighborhood appears to have experiesnced many cases of typhus, a now-rare illness. According to local media accounts, at least two perons in Monrovia, California, recently contracted typhus after handling dead rats, probably due to infected fleas carried by the rats. Thankfully, medicines are effective in treating typhus.

(Photo : Wikimedia Commons)


Typhus refers to three distinct bacterial illnesses, each carried by a different bug or arachnid. Typhus of any sort has become rare in the United States due to improved sanitation, insect management, and medication availability.

However, epidemic typhus (transmitted by body lice) is one kind that regularly causes significant outbreaks of disease and mortality during wars and other times of human sorrow.

Flea-Born Typhus

(Photo : Wikimedia Commons)

Flea-borne typhus, caused by the bacterium Rickettsia typhi, is the most frequent type that occasionally occurs. Fleas become infected by biting infected hosts, whereas humans become infected by scratching contaminated flea feces into bites or bringing flea detritus into openings such as our eyes and mouths.

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Catching the Disease

Margaret Holzmann, a Monrovia resident, recently caught typhus, according to local news station KTLA-TV Channel 5. Holzmann had been suffering from a fever, headache, and exhaustion, which led her to believe she suffered from covid-19.

Her test, however, came back negative, and she remained sick for the following three weeks. Finally, she returned to the doctor, who inquired whether she had lately come into touch with wild creatures, prompting her to recall finding and disposing of a dead rat.

Holzmann shared her experience on the Nextdoor app, a social media network based around local communities, and discovered she wasn't alone in her community after her typhus diagnosis.

"Two blocks over, [a neighbor] claims her grandpa got it about the same time I did, and it was also the same thing: getting rid of a dead rat on their property," Holzmann said to KTLA-TV.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, which oversees Monrovia, has been contacted by Gizmodo to see if these instances have gotten their notice.

However, in the United States, typhus is not a nationally notifiable illness, so doctors and health agencies aren't required to document or track every suspected case.

Spreading the Disease

(Photo : Wikimedia Commons)

However, finding flea-borne typhus in California appears to be nothing out of the ordinary. The illness is often found in tropical locations. Still, there was a tiny outbreak in Los Angeles in 2018, with at least 20 individuals catching it, up from the usual one to five cases recorded in the area each year.

Flea-borne typhus is usually mild and goes away on its own, even if antibiotics aren't used. However, timely treatment can hasten the healing and help avoid problems such as organ damage. For her part, Holzmann hopes that her story may serve as a warning to keep away from deceased animals.

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