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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Conflicting Roles of Vector Control and Animal Control Agencies in Mitigating the Rise of Human Cases of Flea-borne Typhus in Orange County, California

  • Author(s): Cummings, Robert
  • Krueger, Laura
  • Nguyen, Kiet
  • Fogarty, Carrie
  • Bennett, Stephen
  • Velten, Robert
  • Hearst, Michael
  • et al.

Flea-borne typhus has emerged as an important vector-borne disease in Los Angeles and Orange Counties, California, with over 400 human cases having been reported since the mid-1980s. In Orange County alone, 127 human cases have been investigated by the Orange County Vector Control District since 2006. Results from a collaborative study with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 2006-2008 identified the suburban cycle of flea-borne typhus transmission (backyard wildlife/pets – fleas – humans) in Los Angeles and Orange counties. Free-ranging feral and companion cats and the Virginia opossum were identified as the primary host animals of the cat flea, the insect vector responsible for maintenance and transmission of the etiologic agents, Rickettsia typhi and R. felis, for disease in humans. Although the causes of the increase in human flea-borne typhus cases are not well-defined, this rise has been accompanied by changes in how public and privately-sponsored animal control groups manage nuisance animal populations in the affected southern California counties. Instead of elimination through euthanasia of unwanted feral cats and non-native opossums, rehabilitation, relocation, and “no-trap” policies have become the preferred practice of local animal control agencies. The public health obligation for which governmental animal control agencies were created must be re-emphasized as one way of preventing further outbreaks of flea-borne typhus infections in Orange County and the surrounding California counties.

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