Symptoms of Typhus
Like many diseases originating from wildlife (known as zoonotics), typhus infection has many symptoms of the common flu. Symptoms include headache, fever (reaching 104°F, weakness (myalgia), malaise, and chills. Other symptoms include blood in the urine (hematuria), joint pain, rash, abdomen pain, and vomiting. It can take from 5 to 14 days from the initial exposure for symptoms of typhus to become manifest.
How is it Treated?
Once diagnosed, tetracycline is the antibiotic of choice to treat typhus. Death would be an extroardinarily rare occurrence but it is possible.
How do You Protect Yourself?
It is difficult to answer this question because scientists are not sure how we become infected in the first place. So the best advice is to protect yourself as much as possible against all the possible avenues of infection. First, wear your protective equipment before putting your head into crawl spaces. The most regrettable statement is one in which you convince yourself, I will only be here a minute. Put on your personal protective equipment (PPE) before you open the hatch. At a minimum, your PPE should include full-face respirator with HEPA filter. You must of course be medically cleared and fit-tested for the mask before use. The next item is gloves to protect your skin from cuts and scrapes. Second, if you encounter flying squirrels or their nesting stop and obtain more protective gear. I would suggest that you don a full Tyvek® suit and use tongs to remove nesting material to avoid getting too close to any ectoparasites that may be present. You may also want to consider using an insect repellent to repel and kill ticks and other arthropods, such as those made with permethrin. If you have pesticide training along with some knowledge of insects other remedies are likely available. If you get sick, be sure to inform your doctor that you handle wildlife. In fact, you should remind your physician that you work with wildlife every time you see her.
As important as it is to protect your health, you also must protect your company from liability. Inform your client about the problem. Here is where it gets tricky. You don’t want create a panic. But the client should know to monitor his/her health and that of any children. Symptoms typically appear in 5 to 14 days so it is important that the client inform medical officials if anyone gets sick that the problem might be typhus.
You may be wondering, if typhus is so rare why should I as a WCO be concerned about it? Well it is most certainly a rare disease despite findings that 25 to 75% of southern squirrels in Maryland and Virginia were seropositive for the disease. But there are two reasons why it might seem rarer than it actually is. First, typhus is not a reportable infection. So it in fact may be under-reported. Second, with a 5 to 14 day incubation period, people may not even think that their “flu-like symptoms” might have been caused by an encounter with a silly squirrel.
About the Author
Stephen M. Vantassel is a certified wildlife control operator who helps individuals, businesses, and agencies resolve wildlife damage issues through training, writing, expert witness, and research. His latest books are the Wildlife Damage Inspection Handbook, 3rd edition and The Practical Guide to the Control of Feral Cats. He can be contacted at wildlifecontrolconsultant at gmail dot com.
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