The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a pilot program to combat typhus in homeless encampments following a recent outbreak.
The program will include cleaning up streets, offering housing and providing mobile showers, hand sanitizer and flea repellent for those who remain on the streets, City News Service reported .
Typhus is caused by bacteria found in infected fleas that can come from many animals, including cats, rats and opossums. Accumulations of trash that attract animals may increase the risk of exposure.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger said she doesn’t want to be alarmist but has been disturbed by conditions in her district, which includes the foothills of Pasadena, Glendale and the San Gabriel Valley.
“When I drive through parts of my district and I see the living conditions on the street, it reminds me of a third-world country,” Barger said. “We provide showers and they still remain in filthy conditions.”
The board’s action is in response to recent typhus outbreaks in downtown Los Angeles, Pasadena, Long Beach and Willowbrook.
The Department of Public Health has reported 64 cases so far this year, compared to 67 total cases during all of last year. That doesn’t include the cities of Long Beach or Pasadena.
Pasadena has confirmed 20 cases, compared to its usual one to five cases annually. Long Beach has more than doubled its historic rate of cases, with 13 reported so far.
Symptoms can include a high fever, chills, headaches and rashes.
Typhus isn’t contagious between people and is treated with antibiotics.
The county is already reaching out to offer services and housing to people living in homeless encampments, but those efforts aren’t always closely coordinated with street clean up aimed at keeping trash, sewage and the rat population under control.
Barger recommended a housing pilot program to identify and target areas at a heightened risk of exposure to typhus and other communicable diseases.