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Santa Ana on alert for typhus

CALIFORNIA

Acting after a child was hospitalized, city officials seek to capture feral cats at two school campuses.

May 30, 2012|Nicole Santa Cruz
  • Santa Ana police animal services supervisor Sondra Berg, center, and other officers carry traps to be placed around Willard Intermediate School to capture feral cats that might have fleas infected with typhus.
Santa Ana police animal services supervisor Sondra Berg, center, and other… (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles…)

As a new parent, Isiah Smith has much to think about.

Healthcare, education and finances top the list. But on Tuesday, a fresh worry left the 30-year-old Santa Ana resident on edge.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, June 02, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
Typhus: An article in the May 30 LATExtra section about officials on alert for typhus in Santa Ana said that typhus is a virus. Typhus is a bacterial disease.

In an effort to combat a potential typhus outbreak, city officials zeroed in on two schools in Smith's densely packed neighborhood and set a dozen traps to catch feral cats and other animals that might carry disease-bearing fleas.

The hope is that by trapping and testing animals caught at Willard Intermediate School and El Sol Science and Arts Academy, officials will be able to determine whether a recent case of typhus -- the first in Santa Ana this year -- originated in the community. In late April, a child was hospitalized as a result of the virus, which is caused by bacteria found in infected fleas and their feces. The child was later released.

City and school officials began reaching out to residents late last week with automated calls in English and Spanish. More than 2,100 schoolchildren were given informational fliers to take home.

But because Smith's 19-month-old toddler doesn't go to school, he said he didn't know about the disease until late Tuesday morning, when he walked out of his Santa Ana apartment and saw the street was lined with news trucks.

An hour earlier, animal control employees had unloaded the wire cages at Willard.

The department will check the traps periodically this week, but in the meantime, residents in the heart of Santa Ana are being urged to treat their pets for fleas, keep their yards clean and not leave pet food outside for long periods.

Still, residents are worried. The neighborhood, which is northeast of the Santa Ana Civic Center, is one of the county's most densely populated. Beige and tan apartments are packed into the area and with the crush has come a problematic feral cat population.

Melanie Moreira pushed a stroller near the middle school Tuesday with her 1-month-old son, Juan Garcia, sleeping inside, covered by a blanket.

Her 3-year-old daughter, Kayla Garcia, walked beside her. "Who wouldn't be worried about this?" asked Moreira, 22.

She said she found out about the potential outbreak on the 8 a.m. news.

She said she's particularly worried about her son, whom she pushes in a stroller twice daily to help him sleep.

"He's a month old and he doesn't have all his shots yet," she said.

Maricela Ortiz, a 20-year-old cashier who lives in a nearby apartment complex, said that the children in the neighborhood usually like to congregate at the middle school athletic field to play soccer, fly kites and socialize. But not now.

"Everybody is talking about it," she said.

Meanwhile, Smith has decided to take a proactive approach.

He said he's going to research typhus on the Internet and watch for any stray animals, especially the cats and dogs that wander the streets.

Standing on a sidewalk Tuesday, he pulled out his cellphone and flashed a photo of his son, who has a head full of golden curls.

"I've got a lot on the line," he said.

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nicole.santacruz@latimes.com

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