California neighbors contract typhus after disposing of dead rats

MONROVIA, Calif. — At least two people in a Monrovia, California, neighborhood contracted typhus after disposing of dead rats, prompting health officials to remind the public that wild animals often harbor bacteria and pests that can be harmful to humans.

“First, it was exhaustion and then a fever and then a headache. I couldn’t do anything. I was just so exhausted,” Margaret Holzmann told KTLA.

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Following a negative COVID-19 test, Holzmann returned to her doctor when her symptoms lingered and, when prompted about wildlife interactions, recalled that she had cleaned up a dead rat in her backyard.

“He asked me the relevant question which is, ‘Have you had any contact with wild animals?’ and I thought, ‘No, not really’ and then I thought, ‘Oh, wait.’ There was that rat!” Holzmann told the TV station.

Holzmann’s doctor explained to her that the rat’s fleas infected her with typhus, and a post about her ordeal on the NextDoor app revealed a neighbor’s grandfather contracted the bacterial infection in exactly the same way, the Los Angeles Times reported.

It’s not clear how many people in the neighborhood had been hit with the disease, the newspaper reported.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, typhus is typically carried by fleas and ticks and can cause fever, headaches and rashes within a couple of weeks of exposure.

While the disease can usually be treated with a round of antibiotics if caught early, persistent - often undiagnosed - cases can lead to liver or kidney failure, as well as neurological symptoms, Dr. Suman Radhakrishna, director of infectious disease with Dignity Health, told KTLA.

Meanwhile, Holzmann told the Times that she is sharing her story in hopes that she can warn others about the dangers of handling and disposing of dead wildlife.

“If you see something in your yard, call someone who can dispose of it safely, and don’t try to do it yourself,” she said.