Typhus endemic in parts of U.S.
History and military buffs recognize the type of image above. Dozens, if not hundreds, of such photos appeared during and after World War Two. The discovery of the insecticide DDT meant that the lice and fleas responsible for spreading one of the deadliest illnesses on or off the battlefield could be killed. Hundreds of thousands of civilians forced by war into unsanitary conditions owe their lives to such spraying.
Typhus is not gone, and is endemic in parts of the United States. Cases have been reported in the last week in both California and Texas. The Los Angeles Times reports a case of typhus in a child in Orange County late last month. The Austin, TX, Statesman identifies a middle aged Travis County resident as Texas’s first typhus death in many years.
Many unrelated illnesses are called “typhus”. There are two true types of typhus, murine and epidemic. Both are caused by a parasite from the Rickettsia family.
Rickettsia typhi causes murine typhus. It is carried by fleas but is not transmitted by a flea bite. Instead, the illness is spread by flea feces or crushing a flea against the skin. The cat flea is the vector for typhus in the United States.
Typhus is not a reportable illness for the Centers for Disease Control so data on cases of typhus in the United States is somewhat difficult to locate. Texas, and the Austin / Travis County areas in particular, seem to be a center of the illness. Since 2005, Texas has seen over 100 cases of typhus a year. The Statesman reports that Travis County had 54 of the 286 typhus cases in Texas in 2011.
The illness, if caught early, can be treated with antibiotics. There is no vaccine. Prevention consists of controlling fleas and lice and reducing the numbers of animal hosts available to the insects such as rats and mice. Insect repellents containing DEET also provide protection to wearers.
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This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 29th, 2012 at 8:00 am and is filed under Medicine, Original writing, Original writing, Reporting. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.