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Beware: Typhus Is on the Rebound in Texas

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Texas is seeing a resurgence in a potentially fatal disease that many thought had been eradicated: Typhus. Texas Department of State Health Services data show there were more than 360 typhus cases in the state last year, compared to 157 cases in 2008. In Bexar County alone, 66 cases of Typhus were reported last year.

What is Typhus?

flea

Photo: Flickr/AFPMB

Typhus is a flea-borne disease that affects thousands of people every year. It is often found in the colder mountainous regions of Africa, South America, and Asia. It is thought to be carried in Texas by opossums and other backyard animals.

Fleas, mites (chiggers), lice, or ticks transmit it when they bite you. Fleas, mites, lice, and ticks are types of invertebrate animals known as arthropods. When arthropods carrying around rickettsial bacteria bite someone, they transmit the bacteria that causes typhus. Scratching the bite further opens the skin and allows the bacteria greater access to the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, the bacteria continue to reproduce and grow.

The disease is often difficult to diagnose because it can be confused with other viral ailments. Symptoms include headaches, fever, chills, and a rash.

Not the Same as Typhoid

disease
Photo: Flickr/jans canon

Many people confuse Typhus for Typhoid. Despite having similar names, Typhoid and Typhus have little in common. They do share some similar symptoms (such as abdominal pain, chills, and fever) but the main difference is that Typhoid is a foodborne illness.

Protecting Yourself Against Typhus

While there is a Typhus vaccine available, the shrinking number of cases of the disease since the 1950’s has stopped the manufacture of the vaccine, so it’s sometimes hard to come by. Experts recommend the easiest way to prevent Typhus is by avoiding the pests that spread it. 

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