Health officials have issued a warning against flea-borne typhus as cases surge in Los Angeles County in California.

Flea-borne typhus or murine typhus is an infection caused by the bacteria Rickettsia typhi, which spread to people through contact with infected fleas. The bacteria enter the human body through flea bites or when exposed to flea dirt. A person infected with the bacteria does not spread it to another through contact.

Although rarely fatal, the disease was associated with three deaths in LA County last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"Reported flea-borne typhus cases in Los Angeles County have been increasing since 2010, with the highest number (171) reported during 2022. During June–October 2022, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health learned of three flea-borne typhus–associated deaths," the agency said in a report.

Officials request healthcare providers to screen patients for flea-borne typhus if they show symptoms.

"Health care providers should consider flea-borne typhus in any patient with fever, headache and rash, particularly if the patient lives in or recently traveled to an area with endemic disease or had exposure to a reservoir animal," researchers with the CDC wrote.

Symptoms of flea-borne typhus

Many people have mild or no symptoms at all. However, some may develop symptoms within two weeks of contact with infected fleas or flea dirt.

  • Fever and chills
  • Headache, body ache
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Cough
  • Rash on the chest that spreads to the sides and back


Since the symptoms of flea-borne typhus are similar to many other illnesses, it is important to consult a healthcare provider to confirm the disease. The diagnosis is done through blood tests that check for typhus-causing bacteria or antibodies that indicate exposure to the bacteria.


The treatment involves the use of the antibiotics doxycycline. Patients who start antibiotics soon after the symptoms appear often recover quickly from the infection.

Flea-borne typhus when left untreated can lead to serious complications, including damage to the kidney, liver, heart, lungs and brain.


Since there is no vaccine for flea-borne typhus, the most effective way to prevent the disease is to avoid contact with fleas.

1. Protect from flea bites - Avoid contact with wild or stray animals and use gloves while handling them to prevent flea bites. Make sure to spray insect repellants on the skin and clothing while spending time outdoors.

2. Keep pets from fleas - Use flea-control products such as flea collars or oral medications on cats and dogs to keep them safe from fleas.

3. Keep rodents away from home - Store pet food in tight containers and keep the trash cans covered to prevent rodents from entering the home.