Long Beach Public Health Officials Issue Recommendations to Prevent Flea-Borne Typhus

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Opossums, raccoons and other rodents can carry flea borne typhus

The City of Long Beach is alerting the public about flea-borne typhus, a disease transmitted to humans by fleas. In 2012 to date, eleven cases of flea-borne typhus have been reported among Long Beach residents, as compared to nine reported for all of 2011. Officials conducted a detailed investigation into the cases that have been reported, and believe that in all cases, exposure to fleas carried by opossums, cats, or rodents may have been the source of infection. Prior to 2006, flea-borne typhus was not known to be present in the City of Long Beach.

Flea-borne typhus (murine typhus) is a disease spread by fleas living on rodents (rats, mice), opossums, cats, and raccoons. People get the disease through the bites of infected fleas. Flea-borne typhus is not spread from person to person. The most common symptoms of flea-borne typhus are high fevers, severe headaches, body aches and a rash. The disease is rarely fatal, but people can become sick enough to be hospitalized.

Public Health Officials will continue to monitor and test for evidence of flea-borne typhus in areas throughout the City. Informational materials will also be distributed to inform the public of this disease and how to avoid it. The information can also be found on the City’s Health Department’s website at www.longbeach.gov/health. Area veterinarians will receive a letter requesting they educate pet owners on the importance of flea control in preventing flea-borne typhus. Long Beach has also issued letters to area health care providers providing guidelines on the diagnosis and treatment of this disease.

The City’s Health Department urges residents to protect themselves, their families, and their neighbors from flea-borne typhus by following a few simple guidelines:

  1. Consult your veterinarian regarding safe flea control medications for your pets;
  2. Keep your home and yard in good repair by removing overgrown vegetation and debris where rodents, opossums, and feral (wild) cats may hide. Keep screens on crawl space covers and vents in good repair.
  3. Avoid contact with animals that carry fleas. Do not attempt to capture and relocate these animals to other areas.
  4. Eliminate all food and water sources around your home, including open trash cans, fallen fruit around the yard, pet food, and bird feeders;
  5. When cleaning nesting areas of rats and opossums, spray area with disinfectant, and wear protective clothing and equipment (i.e., mask, goggles, gloves);
  6. When treating your yard or animal harborage areas with insecticides, only use products labeled for flea control and follow all directions carefully;
  7. Contact the City’s Animal Care Services by email at animalcare@longbeach.gov, if you have questions about managing opossums and stray or feral cats on your property. More information on urban wildlife is available online at: http://www.longbeach.gov/acs/urban_wildlife/default.asp.
  8. Report dead opossums or cats to Animal Care Services for removal by calling (562) 570-PETS (7387).

For more information about fleaborne typhus, please contact the Health Department’s Epidemiology Program at (562) 570-4302. Information is also available online at www.longbeach.gov/health.

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