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Fatal Flea-Borne Typhus in Texas: A Retrospective Case Series, 1985–2015
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    AbstractFlea-borne (murine) typhus is a global rickettsiosis caused by Rickettsia typhi. Although flea-borne typhus is no longer nationally notifiable, cases are reported for surveillance purposes in a few U.S. states. The infection is typically self-limiting, but may be severe or life-threatening in some patients. We performed a retrospective review of confirmed or probable cases of fatal flea-borne typhus reported to the Texas Department of State Health Services during 1985-2015. When available, medical charts were also examined. Eleven cases of fatal flea-borne typhus were identified. The median patient age was 62 years (range, 36-84 years) and 8 (73%) were male. Patients presented most commonly with fever (100%), nausea and vomiting (55%), and rash (55%). Respiratory (55%) and neurologic (45%) manifestations were also identified frequently. Laboratory abnormalities included thrombocytopenia (82%) and elevated hepatic transaminases (63%). Flea or animal contact before illness onset was frequently reported (55%). The median time from hospitalization to administration of a tetracycline-class drug was 4 days (range, 0-5 days). The median time from symptom onset to death was 14 days (range, 1-34 days). Flea-borne typhus can be a life-threatening disease if not treated in a timely manner with appropriate tetracycline-class antibiotics. Flea-borne typhus should be considered in febrile patients with animal or flea exposure and respiratory or neurologic symptoms of unknown etiology.

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