AUSTIN, Texas (KETK) - Texas officials have issued a health alert warning for an increase in flea-borne typhus across the state.
The alert from the Texas Department of State Health Services also outlines precautions people can take to prevent contracting the disease.
More than 2,800 cases were reported in Texas between 2000 and 2016, and more than 400 cases are expected for 2017.
In previous years, typhus was primarily reported from South Texas, along the Gulf Coast, and Central Texas. In 2017, an increase has been noted in the Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston areas. The majority of typhus cases occur between May and July, with another peak in December and January. Typhus can occur in any age group, but over 25 percent of cases are reported among those between 6-15 years of age.
Flea-borne typhus is often mild, though more than 60 percent of reported cases are hospitalized, according to the DHSH. Since 2003, eight people have died from the disease. When left untreated, the illness can cause organ damage.
Early symptoms develop within 14 days of contact with infected fleas and include headache, fever, nausea, and body aches. Five or six days after the initial symptoms, a rash that starts on the trunk of the body and spreads to the arms and legs may occur. People should contact a health care provider as soon as possible for testing and treatment if symptoms appear.
The illness is easily treated with certain antibiotics, and people will not get it again after they recover.
Flea-borne typhus is a bacterial infection that occurs when infected flea feces are scratched into the site of the fea bite or another break in the skin. Inhaling or mucous membrane contact with contaminated, dried flea feces is another, less common way of contracting the disease.
Fleas get infected when they bite animals, such as rodents, opossums and cats, that can carry and transmit typhus.
The best precautions to guard against contracting the disease are:
- Keep yards clean so that rodents, opossums and stray cats cannot live there by removing any brush or trash, keeping the grass mowed and keeping firewood off the ground.
- Do not leave pet food out at night as this attracts other animals.
- Prevent rodents from living in houses.
- Treat for fleas with a commercial flea control product before beginning rodent control in houses or yards. Fleas will search for new hosts when rodents die.
- Control the fleas on pets regularly. Ask a veterinarian about flea control products that are safe to use on pets.
- Wear gloves and insect repellent when handling sick or dead animals.
- Use insect repellant when hunting, camping or engaging in any other outdoor activities.
For more information, read the health alert.
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