Murine (flea-borne) Typhus title, cat flea floating above typhus bacteria

What is flea-borne typhus?
Flea-borne typhus is a disease that fleas can spread to humans. Rickettsia typhi bacteria (germs) found in infected fleas, and their feces (poop) cause typhus. Fleas leave feces on the skin when they bite. The infection happens when the feces are scratched into the bite site or other skin opening. It can also spread when we rub our eyes or breathe in the germs found in the flea feces. Flea-borne typhus happens in Southern California, Texas and Hawaii.

How is flea-borne typhus spread?
The typhus bacteria infects the fleas of the rats, opossums and cats, though dogs can be affected too. These animals often come into close contact with people. Infected animals don't usually show signs that they're sick. These animals are found in both urban and suburban settings. High numbers of these animals are found when human activities provide a food source. Typhus can spread to other areas when these animals (with their fleas) move from place to place. That is why these animals should not be moved to another area. Relocating opossums violates Texas Fish and Game laws and is considered inhumane.

What are the symptoms?

Signs of typhus can start 6 to 14 days after exposure (having contact) to the infected flea. Many people have fever, headache, chills, body aches and pains. A rash can appear on the chest, back, arms or legs. In rare cases, there may be swelling at the lining of the brain (meningitis) and heart valves (endocarditis). Typhus signs look like many other diseases and is diagnosed with a specific blood test. Contact your doctor if you think you have been infected. This disease is treated only with certain antibiotics that can kill Rickettsia typhi bacteria.

small, sad kitten with graphic notes pointing to fleas

Four tips to keep your family and pets safe from flea-borne typhus.

  1. Do not let wild animals --especially opossums and stray or feral cats-- sleep or hide near your home. Fleas live where animals nest. Fix your home to stop rodents, opossums and stray cats from nesting in crawl spaces, attics or under decks. Clear your yard of heavy bushes to remove places where wild or stray animals may nest or hide. Call your local animal control office before trapping any wild or stray animals at your home. Do not release them in another location, as this can spread disease.
  2. Stop wild animals, especially opossums and stray or feral cats, from finding food near your home. Pick up all fallen fruit from your yard. Don't leave pet food outside. Do not feed wildlife or stray animals. Store your trash in cans with secure lids.
  3. Keep your pets, home and yard free of fleas. Use flea control products for your pets, yard and home. Many products are available for flea control. Use each product safely by following its label. Be aware that some products made for dogs are harmful to cats. Talk to your veterinarian about what flea control product is best for your pet.
  4. Protect yourself when cleaning animal resting and bedding areas. Flea feces can collect in these areas. Always wear protective gear, like gloves, goggles and a mask, when cleaning these areas, especially if indoors. Spray affected areas with a disinfectant. Remove materials while still damp to prevent dust. Wash your hands when you are finished.

In urban settings, typhus infects rats and their fleas. In a suburban setting, typhus infects cats and opossums and their fleas. Most flea-borne typhus cases are reported from the suburban setting.

This page was last modified on February 15, 2023


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