Statewide Alert Issued for Typhus

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BROWNSVILLE – The State Department is urging doctors locally and across the state to be on the lookout for typhus.

The alert was issued after a reported increase in the flea-borne disease throughout Texas.

In June, CHANNEL 5 NEWS reported about just under a dozen cases of typhus in the Rio Grande Valley.

The Texas Department of State Health Services is working to track where the disease is spreading.

Dr. James Castillo, Cameron County Health Authority and doctor at Valley Baptist Hospital said the Valley is no stranger to the disease.

"It's something that we've always had, it's just part of our environment here, it's a tropical illness and we are in the tropical part of Texas," said Dr. Castillo.

Typhus is increasing activity in Texas enough so, to spark a statewide alert.

"I haven't seen an alert for typhus in years," said Dr. Castillo.

On top of working at Valley Baptist Hospital, Dr. Castillo also works with the county to keep track of diseases like typhus.

He says his most recent cases were just last year.

"Usually there might be a few hundred cases in the whole state and this year they're worried there might be more than 400 cases," said Dr. Castillo.

These alerts are issued so there are more eyes on the lookout for the disease.

"It simply allows the health department to investigate cases and determine a threat level to help mitigate the potential of widespread illness and disease," said Marco Lozano the Cameron County assistant health administrator.

Dr. Castillo said these alerts can also help doctors diagnose patients, especially since typhus shares many symptoms with other illnesses such as the flu.

"If they are thinking it might be typhus they can start treatment right away and when they start the treatment the patients usually get better," said Dr. Castillo.

Typhus is spread by fleas which travel primarily on animals like rats, raccoons, possums, and in some cases even cats or dogs.

Pet owner Satnam Saini said he's taking extra precautions to keep his pets flea free.

"For my dog, we have to give him a shower every two days to keep him clean. I have a special shampoo for him," said Saini.

Dr. Castillo says using bug spray when outdoors is also a good way to keep fleas from biting.

Since the start of the year, 29 cases of typhus were reported in Cameron County and 55 for Hidalgo County.

Officials say the numbers are average, but add that the threat continues.

Dr. Castillo said in the past nine years, eight people have died from the disease in Texas.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says detecting symptoms of typhus early is the key to getting the right treatment.

Symptoms include fever and chills, body aches, loss of appetite, nausea, and stomach pain.

The CDC adds a rash can also occur five days after the disease is contracted.

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