San Diego County health officials urged pet owners who let their animals outside to remember to protect their pets — and themselves — from fleas after a county resident has recovered from a relatively rare but potentially deadly form of typhus.


They say a North Park woman was hospitalized in May but has fully recovered after contracting murine typhus, a bacterial disease.

“The woman who became ill had an indoor/outdoor cat and remembered being bitten by fleas before getting sick,” said Dr. Sayone Thihalolipavan, the County of San Diego’s Deputy Public Health Officer. “Keeping fleas off your pets and out of your homes is the best prevention for murine typhus.”

Murine typhus, also called endemic typhus or flea-borne typhus, is a disease caused by a bacteria called Rickettsia typhi. Murine typhus is spread to people through contact with infected fleas. People get sick with murine typhus when infected flea feces are rubbed into cuts or scrapes in the skin.

Cat fleas found on domestic cats and opossums have been associated with cases of murine typhus in the United States.  There are about 200 cases of murine typhus reported each year in the United States. Most cases occur in Texas, California and Hawaii.

Symptoms of murine typhus typically begin within two weeks of coming into contact with infected fleas. These can include fever and chills, body aches and muscle pain, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, cough, and rash, which typically occurs around the fifth day of illness.

Even though most people never need treatment, some murine typhus cases may be severe. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that there is no vaccine to prevent murine typhus, but that it can be treated successfully by antibiotics. When untreated in severe cases, it may be fatal or lead to damage to one or more organs including the liver, kidneys, heart, lungs, and brain.

County officials said the public can reduce the risk of getting murine typhus by using veterinarian-approved flea control products for cats and dogs. This is especially important for animals that go outside, which are more likely to come in contact with fleas and then bring them inside.