In the 19th century, typhus occupied a place in the public conscience in a way that Covid-19 does now – except typhus was much more deadly, incurable and unknowable.
If rising chronic homelessness in California was one unintended consequence of rapid-fire criminal justice reforms, then L.A.’s rat-infested, disease-ridden, trash-filled streets are a result of a second set of policy decisions by local officials.
The musical score ends with the sounds of cannons booming and bells pealing; however, if Tchaikovsky wanted to accurately record the sound of Napoleon’s defeat, one would only hear the soft, quiet sound of lice munching on human flesh. An organism too small to be seen by the human eye had changed the course of human history.
Both poverty and climate change, experts in vector-borne disease have warned, are sure to make diseases like typhus once again common throughout the U.S. Typhus is an old disease, with recorded accounts dating back to the 14th century. There are several forms of typhus, but all are caused by a group of bacteria known as Rickettsia.
Typhus is a bacterial disease caused by Rickettsia bacteria. There are two types of the disease--endemic typhus and epidemic typhus. Rickettsia typhi causes endemic typhus, also known as murine typhus, and is the least virulent. Spread to humans by fleas on animals such as cats, opossums, raccoons, and rats, most notably from the Norway rat, victims of endemic typhus will experience a bodily rash, high fever, nausea, vomiting, discomfort, and diarrhea. Rickettsia prowazekii causes epidemic typhus, which is spread via lice. Symptoms are similar to endemic typhus; they are, however, much more severe and can include delirium, hypotension, and even death.
Part of the reason for the resurgence may be that the disease appears to be spread not just by rats, but by animals many people don’t view as disease carriers. In fact, says Bonny Mayes, an epidemiologist with the Texas Department of State Health Services, the term “murine” which means “related to mice or other rodents” is no longer accurate.
“We actually prefer the term 'flea-borne typhus' to 'murine' because we find that many of our cases appear to be associated more with feral cat and opossum exposure as opposed to rodents,” Mayes says.
It was a truism among 19th-century physicians that, in the words of German epidemiologist August Hirsch, “[t]he history of typhus … is the history of human misery.” Commonly associated at the time with the crowded and unsanitary conditions of jails, ships and hospitals, typhus attacked destitute populations mercilessly. The medical community and laypersons alike often blamed victims of the disease for their own suffering, believing that vicious, debauched, and unhygienic lifestyles begat typhus. An 1836 outbreak of typhus in Philadelphia led to important changes in how physicians understood the disease, with important lessons for epidemiology in the age of COVID-19.
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Typhus outbreaks are often associated with poor hygiene and overcrowding. Los Angeles officials say they’re corralling stray animals that could carry fleas, cleaning streets and encouraging people to treat their pets for fleas and put away trash that may attract infected animals.
Typhus is often linked to unsanitary conditions and overcrowding, experts say.
Animals including rats and cats carry the disease in their bodies, though it doesn’t make them ill. Fleas transmit the disease to humans by biting the infected animals and then biting humans, something that could become more common as more people live on the streets.
Typhus, tuberculosis, and other illnesses are spreading quickly through camps and shelters.
Why it is returning is the question. The outbreaks are more prevalent in overcrowded and trash-filled areas that attract rats. The disease has seen a reemergence in the homeless population of Los Angeles, officials say.
When you think of animals carrying fleas, what comes to mind are dogs and cats, a problem that most responsible pet owners know all about.
But an equal, yet lesser known threat is lurking in the wild and unbeknownst to homeowners, living under the floorboards or in the attic. We are talking about opossums.
The likelihood that the average person would contract typhus – if they don’t have an indoor-outdoor pet or live in proximity to an animal with fleas – is vanishingly low. For the most part, it is the city’s very poorest, living under bridges or in tents, who bear the most risk.
If you find yourself sick with flu-like symptoms, fever and chills, abdominal pain, a rash, and severe confusion, you might have typhus. Or is it typhoid? No wonder you're feeling confused. Until the mid-1800s, doctors didn't even realize these were two different diseases, because the symptoms -- and the conditions that spawned outbreaks -- looked so similar.
Fleas bite and aren't potty trained. That's why there's now an outbreak of typhus in downtown Los Angeles, as announced by the Los Angeles Department of Health.
Typhus fevers are a group of diseases caused by bacteria that are spread to humans by fleas, lice, and chiggers. Typhus fevers include scrub typhus, murine typhus, and epidemic typhus. Chiggers spread scrub typhus, fleas spread murine typhus, and body lice spread epidemic typhus. The most common symptoms are fever, headaches, and sometimes rash.