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Burbank issues warning amid reported flea-borne Typhus infections

August 23, 2012

The Burbank Animal Shelter on Thursday advised the public to take precautions against Endemic Typhus Fever amid reports that the flea-borne disease had infected several people in the city and San Fernando Valley.

At least one human infection had been confirmed so far this year in Burbank, and two have been verified in the San Fernando Valley. Another three cases are under investigation, according to public health officials.

In Los Angeles County, 15 cases of Typhus have been confirmed so far this year, while another 17 were still under investigation, according to Jonathan Fielding, the county’s director of public health.

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The latest infections are part of a trend in which county officials have noticed a slight increase in flea-borne Typhus cases over the past five to six years.

“We don’t really know exactly why this is happening,” Fielding said.

Part of the reason could be the result of his department’s efforts to train doctors on how to better identify and diagnose the disease, he added.

Last year, 38 cases of Typhus were reported in Los Angeles County, Fielding said.

Two other cases of the disease, which is not directly spread by humans, were confirmed in Burbank in 2011, according to the animal shelter.

Patients typically experience fever, headaches, a rash on their chest, sides and back, muscle aches and chills six to 14 days after infection.

Burbank resident Mike Alley is one the more recent infection cases. He said he and his neighbor, who was recently released from local hospital, contracted the disease from fleas in their neighborhood on the 700 block of North Screenland Drive.

The disease put the 70-year-old insurance broker in the hospital for three weeks, but he said it took doctors awhile to discover he had been infected with Endemic Typhus.

“Nobody ever thought it was Typhus,” Alley said.

He said he is certain he caught the disease in November from a flea, which likely latched on to one of his four cats. Health officials say bacteria is transmitted to fleas from disease carrying rats, feral cats and possums.

Alley doesn’t remember much of what happened during his three-week hospital stint. But he recalled hallucinating and feeling lethargic. His wife, he said, discovered him lying on the floor of their home living room and rushed him to hospital.

Despite having received treatment and antibiotics, Alley said he still feels out of it. While driving home from work, Alley sometimes forgets how to get home.

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