Endemic typhus — the strain of the disease that appears in Southern California — is transmitted by infected fleas. Those fleas get the germs from feral cats, opossums and rats. Then they can infect house pets or humans.
Typhus can’t be transmitted from person to person, and it can be easily treated by antibiotics, said Orange County Health Care Agency spokeswoman Deanne Thompson.
“If you suspect you’ve been exposed you should see your primary care physician right away,” she said. “Some of the cases had suffered a week before going to the doctor. If someone has symptoms consistent with typhus and believe they may be exposed to flea bites, it’s important to tell the doctor up front.”
Those symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches and rashes, Thompson said. The best way to prevent the disease is to avoid animals that might have fleas, treat house pets with anti-flea medications, and trim overgrown vegetation that might hide wild animals, she said.
Typhus is still rare, but it’s on the rise in Orange County. A Huntington Beach resident caught the disease in August, and Thompson said several other cases have been reported since 2006.
Before then the last cases were in 1993, she said.