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A typhus outbreak in Los Angeles has reached “epidemic levels” — and some experts are blaming the shocking scourge on the city’s ever-expanding homeless population.
Twenty cases of the rare, flea-borne infectious disease– associated with poor sanitary conditions and overcrowding– have been recorded in Pasadena alone over the past two months, according to the Los Angeles County Health Department. Long Beach has seen 12 cases so far this year, double the normal number. And there have been nine other cases in the rest of the county, NBC News reported.
Nationwide, there are only about 200 cases of the disease in an average year, according to the CDC.
Typhus can cause high fever, headaches, chills, body aches, rashes, stomach aches, and in rare cases, meningitis and death. Humans get stricken when fleas– themselves infected by certain strains of bacteria — bite them or defecate on exposed skin. There is no vaccine.
Officials are investigating the cause of the outbreak.
But some experts wonder if it’s the city’s mushrooming homeless population — the number of people living on the streets and in shelters has surged 75 percent to about 55,000 in the last six years — that’s to blame.
“There are lots of rats on Skid Row and there are lots of dogs that belong to homeless people,” Andy Bales, CEO of Union Mission Rescue, told NBC News.
Bales had his leg amputated in 2014 when he caught flesh-eating bacteria in downtown LA.
The Los Angeles mayor’s office said the city has “formed a dedicated task force through our Unified Homelessness Response Center to keep Angelenos safe, and ensure everyone gets the treatment they need as quickly as possible.”
Specifically, they’re looking for “high concentrations of infected fleas and/or infected rats, feral cats and opossums.”
Officials in nearby Pasadena scoffed at the idea that the homeless are to blame for the typhus outbreak in their tony town. They point to the warm summer and fall and residents’ frequent interactions with animals in the wildlife and canyons of the nearby Angeles National Forest.