An outbreak of flea-borne typhus in downtown Los Angeles has politicians at City Hall working overtime to help prevent the spread of the disease by approving a motion aimed at combating the problem.
The motion introduced by Council President Herb Wesson on Wednesday bypassed the usual committee hearings in a sign of the urgency surrounding the situation at City Hall.
“I want to make it crystal clear that this council truly believes that when individuals come to work for the city of Los Angeles that the only thing they should be concerned about is getting here on time,” Wesson said. “They should not be concerned about coming to work and finding themselves in an unsafe or unhealthy environment.”
The motion says there has been "a noticeable increase in the amount of rodents in the area and within city buildings" and references a report by NBC Los Angeles about an employee who says she caught typhus last year from fleas in the office.
“Since the work has been completed, our employees have not reported any new rodent or flea issues within the office,” the motion states.
The motion instructs city staff to investigation how much it would cost to remove all the carpets in City Hall and City Hall East and report back with an assessment on any plants in city owned buildings, city-owned facilities and city-operated facilities within the downtown area. A pest control vendor is already patrolling the floors of City Hall and City Hall East to help reduce the issue.
A typhus outbreak was declared last year in downtown Los Angeles, which includes Skid Row, where an estimated 2,000 homeless people live. L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti allocated millions of dollars last year to increase clean-ups of streets in the Skid Row area, known as the "typhus zone." The motion also blames the demolition of the Los Angeles Police Department's former Parker Center headquarters building, which has been vacant since 2013 for the abundance of rats in the area.
Typhus is a flea-borne illness that develops after fleas bit rats and become infected with a bacteria known as Rickettsia typhi or Rickettsia felis. Typhus spreads to humans through flea bites or through the feces of infected fleas when rubbed into a cut or scrapes in the skin. Symptoms of typhus include fever and chills, headache, rapid breathing, body and muscle aches, rash, cough, nausea and vomiting and confusion according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There is no vaccine to prevent typhus, but antibiotics are available to treat people diagnosed with the disease.
Photo: Andrew Mollenbeck