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There's A Flea-Borne Typhus Outbreak In Downtown LA

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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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By Ryan Fonseca and Brian Frank

County health officials are working with the city of L.A. to investigate an outbreak of flea-borne typhus downtown and reduce the spread of the disease.

Typhus shows up throughout the county every year, with an average of about 60 cases countywide for each of the last five years. But it was a cluster of nine associated cases discovered downtown between July and September that got their attention, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

All of the people affected have a history of living or working in the downtown area, and some of them were homeless, health officials told LAist.

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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. Pets and other animals don't get sick, but for people the symptoms include rash, high fever, chills and headache. The disease can be treated with antibiotics, according to health officials, and it is not transmitted person-to-person.

Areas where trash accumulates can draw stray animals and rodents with fleas, increasing the chances of exposure, health officials added.

The health department recommended several ways to help prevent flea-borne typhus, including using flea control products on pets and not approaching or feeding stray animals.

"We encourage pet owners to practice safe flea control and encourage all cities in the county to ensure maintenance of their trash clean-up and rodent control activities," County Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis said in a statement.

Officials are still working to determine where exactly the cases in downtown L.A. may have occurred.

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