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Murine Typhus (Flea-Borne Typhus or Endemic Typhus)

Reviewed on 1/18/2019

Flea-Borne Typhus (Murine Typhus) Related Articles

Murine Typhus

Murine typhus, also called endemic typhus or flea-borne typhus, is a disease caused by a bacteria called Rickettsia typhi. Murine typhus is spread to people through contact with infected fleas. People get sick with murine typhus when infected flea feces are rubbed into cuts or scrapes in the skin. In most areas of the world, rats are the main animal host for fleas infected with murine typhus. Murine typhus occurs in tropical and subtropical climates around the world where rats and their fleas live. Cat fleas found on domestic cats and opossums have been associated with cases of murine typhus in the United States. Most cases of murine typhus in the United States are reported in people from California, Hawaii, and Texas.

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of murine typhus begin within 2 weeks after contact with infected fleas. Signs and symptoms may include:

Most people will recover without treatment, but some cases may be severe. When left untreated, severe illness can cause damage to one or more organs including the liver, kidneys, heart, lungs, and brain.

Diagnosis and Testing

  • The symptoms of murine typhus are similar to symptoms of many other diseases. See your health care provider if you develop the symptoms listed above after coming in contact with fleas.
  • Tell your health care provider if you have had contact with animals including rats, cats, or opossums.
  • Your health care provider may order a blood test to look for murine typhus or other diseases.
  • Laboratory testing and reporting of results can take several weeks, so your health care provider may start treatment before results are available.

Treatment

Murine typhus is effectively treated with the antibiotic doxycycline. Doxycycline can be used in persons of any age. Antibiotics are most effective when given soon after symptoms begin. People who are treated early with doxycycline usually recover quickly.

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Prevention

  • There is no vaccine to prevent murine typhus.
  • Reduce your risk of getting murine typhus by avoiding contact with infected fleas.
  • Keep rodents and animals away from your home, workplace, and recreational areas. Remove brush, rock piles, junk, cluttered firewood, and food supplies, especially pet food.
  • Always wear gloves if you are handling sick or dead animals.
  • Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellent labeled for use against fleas if you think you could be exposed to fleas during activities such as camping, hiking, or working outdoors.
    • Products containing DEET can be applied to the skin as well as clothing.
    • Always follow product instructions.
    • Reapply insect repellent as directed.
    • Do not spray repellent on the skin under clothing.
    • If you are also using sunscreen, apply sunscreen before applying insect repellent.
  • If you have a baby or child:
    • Do not use insect repellent on babies younger than 2 months of age.
    • Dress your child in clothing that covers arms and legs, or cover crib, stroller, and baby carrier with mosquito netting.
    • Do not apply insect repellent onto a child's hands, eyes, or mouth or on cuts or irritated skin.
    • Adults: Spray insect repellent onto your hands and then apply to child's face.
  • Treat clothing and gear with permethrin or purchase permethrin-treated items.
    • Permethrin kills fleas and can be used to treat boots, clothing, and camping gear.
    • Treated clothing remains protective after multiple washings. See product information to learn how long the protection will last.
    • If treating items yourself, follow the product instructions carefully.
    • Do NOT use permethrin products directly on skin. They are intended to treat clothing.
  • Keep fleas off of your pets. Use veterinarian-approved flea control products for cats and dogs such as flea collars or spot-ons. Permethrin should not be used on cats. Animals that are allowed outside are more likely to come in contact with fleas and could bring them inside.

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

Fever is a common symptom of murine typhus.

Flea-Borne Typhus Symptom

Fever

Body temperature measurements are usually measured by temperature devices inserted on or into the rectum, mouth, axilla (under the armpit), skin, or ear (ear thermometers). Some devices (laryngoscopes, bronchoscopes, rectal probes) may have temperature-sensing probes that can record temperature continually. The most common way to measure body temperature was (and still is in many countries) with a mercury thermometer; because of glass breakage and the possibility of subsequent mercury contamination, many developed countries use digital thermometers with disposable probe covers to measure temperature from all of the body sites listed above. Disposable temperature-sensitive strips that measure skin temperature are also used. Oral temperatures are most commonly measured in adults, but rectal temperatures are the most accurate because environmental factors that increase or decrease temperature measurements have the least effect on the rectal area. Rectal temperatures, when compared to oral temperatures taken at the same time, are about 1.8 F (0.6 C) higher. Consequently, an accurate measurement of body temperature (best is rectal core temperature) of 100.4 F (38 C) or above is considered to be a "fever" and the person has a febrile illness.

Reviewed on 1/18/2019
References
United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Typhus Fevers: Murine Typhus." Jan. 18, 2019. <https://www.cdc.gov/typhus/murine/index.html>.

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