Long Beach reports ‘significant’ increase in flea-borne typhus cases

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A flea is seen in a file photo. (iStock/Getty Images Plus)

A flea is seen in a file photo. (iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Long Beach is experiencing a “significant” increase in the spread of typhus for the first half of 2021, more than doubling the average number of cases diagnosed by this point in years past, public health officials said Tuesday.

The number of cases is still low, with 10 reported thus far, according to the Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services. However, the city generally averages just four cases by the mid-point of the year.

Infections have been spread throughout the city and not just in one particular geographical area, officials said in a news release.

The flea-borne disease is endemic to Long Beach, meaning the city expects a certain number of typhus diagnoses every year, according to the release. The highest total measured in a year were in 2016 and 2018, when there were 20 cases.

The bacterial infection can be contracted from a bite by an infected flea; the tiny insects can be carried by a variety of animals, such as dogs, cats, rats, raccoons and opossums, and that often leads to the exposure.

Symptoms of typhus include high fever, chills, headache and rash. Antibiotics are used to treat the disease, which can otherwise lead to severe illness without treatment.

Long Beach requires every typhus patient to be interviewed by an epidemiologist, in part to establish how the person was exposed to the bacteria, according to the release. After, the case is handed off to the Vector Control Program, which visits the patient’s home and surrounding neighborhood to give tips on flea prevention.

In announcing the rise in cases, health officials provided the following tips for residents to protect themselves from typhus:

  • Treat dogs and cats regularly to prevent fleas
  • Don’t leave pet food outside
  • Don’t give food or water to wild animals
  • Make sure trash can lids are secure
  • Avoid overgrown brush that could harbor wild animals
  • If there is risk of exposure, like during outdoor activities, apply an Environmental Protection Agency-registered insect repellent that works against fleas

More information can be found by going to the website www.longbeach.gov/Typhus

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