Local health officials say a flea-transmitted disease is on the rise in the Austin area. Murine typhus fever occurs when people come in contact with infected fleas. It is not spread person to person.
Although the disease happens year round, most cases occur from May through September. Symptoms can begin from 6-14 days after exposure and include high fever, headaches, chills, body aches and pain. A rash on the chest, back, arms and legs can sometimes occur. The disease is readily treatable with antibiotics.
As of July 2016, Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services had recorded 14 cases, in contrast to 15 cases for all of 2015. Most of the 2016 cases have required hospitalization.
Wild animals such as rats and opossums as well as pets can carry the fleas that transmit the disease. Because these animals frequently come in close contact with people, they can be involved in transmitting the disease to humans. Infected pets usually do not show any symptoms. If pets are infested with fleas, their fleas may become infected and transmit the disease to humans.
Here are some steps local officials say you can take to prevent pets and humans from getting murine typhus disease:
Practice effective flea control. Pets, yards and homes should be kept free of fleas. Oral and topical flea control medications can be effective. When purchasing pesticides to treat yards and homes, use only materials that target fleas and follow all label directions carefully.
Eliminate nesting or hiding places. Homes should be kept in good repair to prevent rodents, opossums, stray or feral cats from entering the house or finding crawl spaces below the home. Yards should be kept clear of heavy undergrowth and debris to reduce areas where animals can nest or hide.
Take personal precautions. Before cleaning nesting areas, apply effective insect repellent (one with DEET) and wear protective equipment such as a dust particle mask, goggles and gloves. Do not attempt to capture or re-locate wild animals to other areas. Contact 3-1-1 and ask for Animal Services.