Rare disease spread by fleas on rats makes way to Texas

Rare disease spread by fleas on rats makes way to Texas

Amarillo, TX - A disease rarely seen since the 1940s has shown up in Texas.

It's called Murine typhus and at least 20 people have been treated for the rare disease in Texas...an unusually high number for a disease that had been close to extinction.

In the 1950s, the disease was close to eradication, but in the past months the state of Texas has seen an increase in Murine typhus.

The disease is spread by fleas on rats and opossums that come in contact with humans.

"Murine Typhus is actually that bacterial infection that is passed from typically rats or a reservoir, but via rat fleas," says Dr. Todd Bell. "So basically there's some communication or contact with fleas, then the individual gets the infection."

Although the Panhandle area has not seen a case of the rare disease, local pest control companies tell us they have seen more rats than usual.

"We have seen an increase in calls this year and we are experiencing some rats typically out on the edges of town," says Brad Turner with Lady Bug Pest Control. "The northwest area, southwest area where all the construction's going on. Some on the rolling hills area. The rat populations are up this year."

Common symptoms for myrian typhus mimic the flu, making it more difficult to diagnose. Patients experience fevers, headaches and nausea.

"Because the symptoms are so similar to lots of other types of infections, it's sometimes difficult to think about an unusual type of infection like Murine typhus," says Dr. Bell.

While health officials tell us there is no reason for the Amarillo community to be alarmed, they say taking precaution can not hurt.

Trimming bushes and grass can keep rodents away from homes and other shelters.

"If somebody has fleas in an area that they're living, that they're around, then that'd be something that we'd certainly encourage getting a pest control out there and see if they're able to get rid of those fleas," says Dr. Bell.

"Typically one of the best ways to prevent any kind of rodent activity inside the home is to keep the property well mowed, well maintained and of course, the most important thing is to always seal the home," says Turner.

The disease is rarely deadly, however without antibiotics it can take months to clear up.