A coordinated government response to an outbreak of flea-borne typhus is critical, a Los Angeles County official said Tuesday, calling for public health and other city agencies to work together.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger said Los Angeles County health workers need to collaborate with their peers in Pasadena — where the disease has reached epidemic proportions — and Long Beach. Both cities have independent health agencies.
Barger previewed a motion calling for more outreach to at-risk individuals as well as the many city agencies that manage animal control and trash collection across the county. It will be considered by the Board of Supervisors next week.
The recent typhus outbreak downtown represents about 15 percent of the 59 cases identified by Los Angeles County’s 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 the DPH.
The county total reflects a 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.
Pasadena has been disproportionately impacted, confirming 20 cases of typhus to date 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.
Infected fleas are most often spread by rats, cats and opossums, which do not show symptoms of the typhus infection. However, typhus can cause high fever, chills, headache and rash in humans and, if not treated with antibiotics, can also lead to hospitalization and, in rare cases, death.
The best way to control the fleas is to control the animals that spread them, Barger said. The disease is not transmitted person-to-person, according to county health officials.
In addition to avoiding contact and keeping fleas off house pets, residents should keep garbage cans tightly covered to discourage wild and stray animals.
Barger’s motion includes a recommendation that the Department of Animal seek donations of flea collars that can be handed out to homeless individuals with pets.