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LA County Will Fight Typhus Outbreaks With Health Action Plan, Plus Homeless Housing

This image depicts a magnified left lateral view of a female Oriental rat flea, Xenopsylla cheopis. Downtown Los Angeles has seen an outbreak of flea-borne typhus in recent months, according to the county's public health department. (Photo by James Gathany/Courtesy of CDC/Ken Gage)
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The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has voted to launch a pilot program to halt the spread of flea-borne typhus in homeless camps.

The motion from supervisors Kathryn Barger and Janice Hahn, approved Tuesday, calls for mobile showers, hand sanitizer and flea repellent for people and pets experiencing homelessness.

The L.A. County Department of Public Health has been investigating a pair of outbreaks in downtown L.A. and the Willowbrook area, calling the downtown outbreak "unusual" for spreading so rapidly.

The new program will also offer outreach to homeless people in an effort to connect them with housing and reduce public health risks.

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"It is simply inhumane to stand by while people are living in dangerous conditions," Barger said in a release. "While efforts to address the typhus outbreak are underway, there is a need for a strategic public health solution to this component of the homelessness crisis."

Another approved motion from Barger and Hahn directs the L.A. County Department of Public Health to coordinate with the health departments in Pasadena and Long Beach to develop a countywide typhus prevention and response plan. A report on the plan will be reviewed by the board within 45 days.

Jointly, the departments have recorded nearly 100 cases of typhus so far this year -- well ahead of the countywide average of about 60 typically seen in a calendar year.

This form of typhus spreads when feces from an infected flea come into contact with cuts and scrapes on the skin or get rubbed into the eyes. The disease only affects humans, with symptoms including rash, high fever, chills and headache. Typhus can be treated with antibiotics, according to health officials, and it is not transmitted person-to-person.

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