HOUSTON (AP) — Texas is seeing a growing number of cases of typhus, a disease that was thought to be almost eradicated in the U.S.
Texas Department of State Health Services data show there were more than 360 typhus cases in the state last year, compared to 30 cases in 2003.
A majority of the cases occurred in the southern portion of the state, the Houston Chronicle reported . More than 40 counties in the state have seen cases of the disease, and people ages 5 to 19 had the highest rate of the disease.
"We can now add typhus to the growing list of tropical infections striking Texas," said Dr. Peter Hotez, founding dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor and Texas Children's Hospital. "Chagas, dengue fever, Zika, chikungunya and now typhus — tropical diseases have become the new normal in south and southeast Texas."
The potentially fatal disease is transmitted by fleas that are mostly carried by opossums and other backyard animals.
The disease is often difficult to diagnose because it can be confused with other viral ailments. Symptoms include headaches, chills, a rash, achy muscles, nausea and vomiting.
"We think this is a true increase, not just a growing recognition of the disease or increased surveillance," said Dr. Kristy Murray, a Baylor associate professor of infectious disease. "We're seeing a lot more cases in more areas, and it's becoming a bigger burden. The positive is it can be treated successfully if it's recognized."
Diagnosis delays can complicate recovery. Many of those infected with typhus spent time in an intensive care unit because of the severity of their symptoms, Murray said.
Flea protection for pets is important to help stop spread of the disease, Murray said.
Typhus was common in the U.S. through the 1940s, but there were less than 100 cases reported nationwide by the mid-1950s.
Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com