The Opossum: Miscreant Named in Spreading Typhus Fever

Flea-ridden opossums may be to blame for the typhus fever epidemic going around parts of Southern California. 

The opossum was named by public health officials this past week as one of the main carriers of fleas that transmit the typhus fever in addition to dogs and cats and other rodents. 

A record 20 cases of typhus have been reported this year in Pasadena where the opossum is a major contributor. 

Los Angeles is experiencing even higher numbers with 59 cases recorded this year. Nine of those cases have been recorded in downtown LA where some homeless people were affected. 

Fleas hosted by these animals can carry one of two strains of bacteria, Rickettsia typhi or Rickettsia felis, that cause typhus fever when they bite humans or simply land on human skin and deposit feces that get rubbed into the body and enter the bloodstream. 

The disease can cause high fever, chills, headaches and rash, requiring lengthy hospitalization, and is only fatal in about 1 percent of cases.  

Michael Johnson, director of the Pasadena Public Health Department told Pasadena Star News fleas can come from pets inside a home and from possums moving through neighborhoods from wilderness areas adding, “It is an endemic problem, But the opossum is very much a part of the problem.”

A single opossum can carry as many as 700 fleas.

To reduce your interaction with fleas, you can do the following recommended actions:

• Reduce vegetation on a yard’s perimeter, where opossums or feral cats can hide

• Fill in holes in eaves, crawlspaces or sheds

• Don’t leave cat or dog food outside

• Pick up fruit from trees

• Keep garbage containers tightly covered

• Use flea control medication on your pets

Photo: Getty Images

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