Van Nuys, CA — Fleas were the cause of the plague, and to this day fleas can still carry KILLER diseases. If your pet has fleas, you will soon find that you have fleas as well. And being a human wearing a flea collar is just not fashionable these days. The fleas in Van Nuys and surrounding communities carry a disease called MURINE TYPHUS.
Murine Typhus is a disease transmitted by fleas, the same insects that brought us the plague. Endemic typhus, a flea borne typhus,and shop fever are other names used for this disease, but make no mistake, no matter what it is called, it could put you six feet under. It is caused by the bacterium, Rickettsia typhia, and possibly Rickettsia felis, found in infected fleas and their feces. Murine typhus differs from epidemic or louse borne typhus, which usually does not occur in America.
HOW DOES ONE GET MURINE TYPHUS?
Fleas defecate (go to the bathroom) as they feed (suck your blood). One gets infected when flea poo containing the disease agent is scratched into the bite site or other skin opening. You can also get infected by the flea feces being transferred to your eye (you scratch the flea bite, then rub your eye), or you breathe in the flea feces.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
Do you have Murine Typhus? Symptoms may begin from 6 to 14 days after exposure. All infected persons have fever and most have headache, chills, body aches and pains. A rash on the chest, back, arms and/or legs can sometimes occur. Make sure to get your blood tested, because Murine Typhus shares symptoms with many other diseases, and there can be incorrect diagnosis issues without a blood test. After all, there is no need for a prostate examination if you have a sore throat, make sure to get a blood test if you think you have any of the symptoms of Murine Typhus. Most of the cases reported in Los Angeles County REQUIRE HOSPITALIZATION.
HOW IS THE DISEASE TREATED?
This disease is readily treatable with the appropriate antibiotic therapy.
WHAT ANIMALS ARE INVOLVED?
In Los Angeles County, the Norway rat, roof rat, domestic cat, and opossum are involved in the transmission of this disease to humans. These particular animals, which are not native to southern California, frequently come into close contact with humans. They become infected and pass the organism to their fleas. Remember, infected animals usually do not display symptoms. So the roof rat and the Norway rat will not be having a casual conversation with the opossum about which type of aspirin they all should take for their headache.
WHERE IS THIS DISEASE FOUND?
In Los Angeles County, the disease is found in both urban and suburban areas. There are two types of ways the disease can manifest itself. There are actually different urban and suburban indications of Murine Typhus.
The most classic transmission cycle is known as the urban cycle. It is found in downtown Los Angeles where the disease circulates among Norway rats and their fleas.
The suburban cycle of the disease is found in residential communities. The disease circulates primarily among domestic cats and opossums, and is transmitted by the cat flea. This cycle accounts for MOST of the reported cases occuring in our county.
How has man contributed to the continued threat of this disease?
In Los Angeles County, man has played an active role by introducing the animals involved in the transmission cycle and by creating environmental conditions conducive for the maintenance and spread of Murine Typhus. These animals often exist in significant numbers in commerical or residential communities because of ample food supply, accessible harborage, and a lack of predators such as coyotes, owls, and massive opossum eating eagles.
This disease should be reported to the Morbidity/Communicable Disease Reporting Unit (213) 240-7821. A Confidential Morbidity Report can be downloaded from the Department of Health Services web site: http://lapublichealth.org — click on acute communicable disease and then disease reporting.
How will I know if my pet has Murine Typhus?
Infected pets usually do not display any symptoms. If your pet becomes infected with fleas, their fleas may become infected and transmit the disease to you.
What are the steps to take to fight this disease? Practice safe flea control. Pets, yards, and homes should be kept free of fleas. Oral and topical flea control medications are avaiable from local pet stores and can be used to control flea problems. Consult your veterinarian for advice. when purchasing pesticides to treat yards and homes, use only materials which state “FLEAS” on the label, and follow the directions carefully.
Also, eliminating all possible harborage and places for these animals to stay. This does not mean you need to get rid of your opossum and Norway rat, just stop feeding the wild ones. Homes should be kept in good repair to prevent rodents, opossums, and stray or feral cats from entering the structure or nesting in crawl spaces below structures. Yards should be kept clear of heavy undergrowth and accumulated debris to reduce areas where animals may nest, hide, or live.
You should eliminate all food sources. Do not encourage animals to visit your yard by directly or indirectly feeding them. So that birdfeeder you keep refilling, it could be the end of you. Open trash cans, bird feeders, fallen fruit, and pet food attract rodents and other animals. Pick up all fallen fruit and DO NOT leave food out for pets.
Remember to take personal precautions. when you are cleaning nesting areas, spray the area with disinfecant, and wear protective equipment such as a particle
mask or respirator, goggles and gloves. This practice also reduces exposure to rodent excretions which may cause other diseases.
When opossums or feral cats become pests, well intentioned individuals will sometime attempt to capture and relocate these animals to other areas. THIS PRACTICE VIOLATES CALIFORNIA FISH AND GAME LAWS and is considered inhumane. Prior to trapping opossums and stray or feral cats on your property, contact your local animal control agency or the Humane Society. DO NOT RELOCATE ANIMALS. This practice helps spread disease. Are you interested in obtaining additional information, medical questions about the disease can be directed to the Acute Communicable Disease Unit 213-240-7941.