ER doctors in San Antonio diagnosing typhus cases caused by flea bites

If you’re bit by a flea, watch out for purple diffuse rash, headache, fever

SAN ANTONIO - – When you hear the word typhus, you may think of the epidemics that happened historically during wars and famines.

Although it’s no longer an epidemic, hospitals in South Texas are still seeing cases, including in San Antonio.

In this area of the country, there are cases of murine typhus, which is the type of typhus caused by flea bites.

“We see a lot of it here in South Texas, it’s common in certain tropical areas, parts of South America, Central America,” said Dr. Ralph Riviello, director of emergency medicine at University Hospital and UT Health San Antonio.

Riviello said murine typhus is more common in warm months, and he has already diagnosed several cases this summer in San Antonio.

Initial symptoms include: fever, headache, and a purple diffuse rash. However, it can progress to more serious neurological symptoms, including serious headache, meningitis and confusion.

Fleas feed off of animals, both strays and pets, so that’s where prevention comes into play.

If you’re spending a lot of time outside where animals are typically present, put on some bug spray.

Then when it comes to keeping fleas out of your home, use products to regularly spray your yard, and put your pets on preventative flea medicine.

If you do get flea bites, watch for symptoms, which typically show up about 7-10 days after the bite.

“If we assume or presume someone has it, we go ahead and offer the treatment because it is a simple antibiotic taken orally. It has few to no side effects, so we can prescribe that while we wait for test results,” Riviello said.

If you develop symptoms, head to the doctor and make sure you tell them you had a recent flea bite.

Typhus is not spread from human to human.

For a closer look at Typhus cases, head to the CDC website.

About the Authors:

Courtney Friedman is a KSAT anchor and reporter. She has an ongoing series called Loving in Fear, confronting Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She's also covered Hurricane Harvey, the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, and tornadoes throughout Texas. She’s a California native and proud Longhorn who loves calling SA home.