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Warning Issued on Disease Spread by Fleas From Rats

January 03, 1991

The county Health Department has issued a warning to San Gabriel Valley residents to take preventive measures against a flu-like disease spread by rodents and other animals.

Twenty-seven cases of murine typhus, which is not contagious, have been reported in Los Angeles County since 1985, said Frank Hall, chief of the county's Vector-Borne Disease Program. One case was reported in Pasadena last year and two cases were reported in Monrovia in 1989, Hall said.

People bitten by infected fleas will develop flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache, muscle ache and rashes. The report said the disease is typically spread by fleas from rats, but county health officials found that infected fleas from opossums and pets also carry the disease.

The report, released by County Supervisor Pete Schabarum, urged residents to trim ivy, grass and weeds, to seal openings in attics and pet doors, and to repair vent screens.

"This is especially important now as these pests seek warm places to nest during the colder months," Schabarum said.

Hall said the disease is endemic to the foothill area because of its wild-animal population. Rats nesting in attics and woodpiles, or wild dogs and cats hunting for food are the main carriers of the disease.

"The animals are looking for food and a warm place," he said. "The fleas bite animals, and then hop off the animals and find someone else to hop on."

In the past five years, cases have been reported during the winter and spring months, Hall said. He added that the disease can be treated by antibiotics.

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