"Murine typhus, which is a disease transmitted primarily by fleas, has been slowly increasing in Los Angeles County," said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, director of the L.A. County Department of Health. "It is not an epidemic. We had a total of 38 cases reported last year. We've had 15 confirmed this year and another 17 that we're investigating."
Health officials say people can get typhus when their pets come in contact with wild, flea-infested animals like possums, rats, feral cats and others.
"And some of the fleas have moved from those animals to your animals," said Fielding.
If one of those fleas from your pet bites you, you could end up with typhus.
Health officials say the symptoms of typhus are similar to a bad case of the flu: headaches, high fever, chills, muscle aches and more. Another sign of typhus is a rather large rash that can break out over your body.
"The good news is when it's diagnosed it's very treatable with antibiotics," said Fielding.
At least one human infection had been confirmed so far this year in Burbank, and two have been verified in the San Fernando Valley. Another three cases are under investigation, according to public health officials.
In Los Angeles County, 15 cases of typhus have been confirmed so far this year, while another 17 were still under investigation, according to Fielding.
The latest infections are part of a trend in which county officials have noticed a slight increase in flea-borne typhus cases over the past five to six years.
The health department urges residents to protect themselves, their families, and their neighbors from flea-borne typhus by following a few simple guidelines:
1. Consult your veterinarian regarding safe flea control medications for your pets.
2. Keep your home and yard in good repair by removing overgrown vegetation and debris where rodents, possums, and feral (wild) cats may hide. Keep screens on crawl space covers and vents in good repair.
3. Avoid contact with animals that carry fleas. Do not attempt to capture and relocate these animals to other areas.
4. Eliminate all food and water sources around your home, including open trash cans, fallen fruit around the yard, pet food, and bird feeders.
5. When cleaning nesting areas of rats and possums, spray area with disinfectant, and wear protective clothing and equipment (i.e., mask, goggles, gloves).
6. When treating your yard or animal harborage areas with insecticides, only use products labeled for flea control and follow all directions carefully.