New typhus cases reported in Willowbrook; officials expect additional outbreaks

A pile of trash sits uncollected in Los Angeles' Fashion District. Local businesses say they fear a typhus outbreak will spread because the city hasn't picked up trash in the area.
A pile of trash sits uncollected in Los Angeles’ Fashion District. Local businesses say they fear a typhus outbreak will spread because the city hasn’t picked up trash in the area.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

A week after announcing an outbreak of flea-borne typhus in downtown Los Angeles, health officials on Friday declared another outbreak of the illness — this time in Willowbrook.

Four people have been diagnosed with typhus in the unincorporated community near South Los Angeles, three of whom were hospitalized, according to health officials.

Typhus outbreaks are often associated with poor hygiene and overcrowding. More people have been falling sick with typhus in Los Angeles County over the last decade, though experts are unsure why.


The latest cases bring the county total to at least 83 this year. There were five in all of 2008, according to the California Department of Public Health.

“We expect to continue to see clusters of flea-borne typhus throughout L.A. County,” health officials wrote in an alert to doctors on Friday.

The outbreak in downtown Los Angeles has sickened nine people, six of whom were homeless. There have also been 20 cases in Pasadena.

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 distinct from typhoid fever, a foodborne illness that is rarely contracted within the United States and can be spread from person to person. Typhus, by contrast, cannot be passed between people.

“We are continuing to see cases of flea-borne typhus throughout Los Angeles County, so it is important that everyone takes steps to reduce their risk of infection,” L.A. County health officer Dr. Muntu Davis said in a statement Friday. “Typhus infection can be prevented through flea control measures on pets, using insect repellent to avoid flea bites, and clearing areas that can attract wild or stray animals like cats, rats and opossums.”


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