Typhus Epidemic In Los Angeles Carried By Fleas, Possibly Associated With High Rate Of Homelessness

Health officials reported epidemic levels of typhus in Pasadena Friday. NBC News reported that while there are usually five cases of typhus in the area in a year, this year has seen 20 cases, most of them within the last two months. Long Beach has had 12 cases so far this year, twice as many as normal. Throughout the rest of Los Angeles County, there have been nine reported cases since July, bringing the numbers to a level that’s considered an “outbreak.” A statement from the city announced, “The Pasadena Health Department is reporting epidemic levels of typhus fever this year.” The source is believed to be fleas present on both domestic and wild animals, but how they are infecting people is undetermined at this time and a topic of conversation among many.

Typhus (also known as typhus fever) is not the same thing as typhoid fever. Typhus fever is contracted through contact with infected fleas while typhoid fever is passed through contaminated water and food. Symptoms of typhus include high fever, rash, chills, and aches. In rare cases it can lead to meningitis or death.

A spokeswoman for the county said via email that all of the reported cases have one thing in common — a history of living or working in downtown Los Angeles. Andy Bales, who runs a 1,400-bed facility for homeless people, is not surprised and says that the conditions of “Skid Row” are so bad that the area is “ripe for even more serious issues than this.” He points to the numerous rats and the large number of dogs owned by homeless people on Skid Row. Bale had his own nightmare experience in 2014 when he had to have a leg amputated because of a flesh-eating bacteria he was exposed to downtown. A spokesman for Mayor Eric Garcetti commented on the epidemic via email.

“We’re deploying every available resource to help control and stop this outbreak. The City and County have formed a dedicated task force through our Unified Homelessness Response Center to keep Angelenos safe, and ensure everyone gets the treatment they need as quickly as possible.”


Pasadena officials believe the outbreak is the result of warm temperatures and the interaction of people with domestic animals that have encountered infected wild animals in canyons and the Angeles National Forest. The Los Angeles County Department of Health said it is looking for “high concentrations of infected fleas and/or infected rats, feral cats and opossums.”

A September report by a nonprofit research organization showed that Los Angeles has about twice as many homeless people in its population as it had previously indicated. It put the number at 102,955. Alice Callaghan of Las Familias del Pueblo, an organization providing services to those living on Skid Row, described the number of homeless on the sidewalks of Los Angeles as dramatically higher than they used to be, saying, “They’re like refugee camps.”