flea-borne thypus

Fleas: the connection between typhus, rats, and your business


According to data from the California Department of Public Health, flea-borne typhus cases in humans have been on the rise since 2015, reaching a record high in 2018. Recent news coverage has highlighted the rising outbreak in LA, but the risk isn’t isolated there. As rats take over cities across the nation, the risks of flea-borne typhus rise as well. Here is everything you need to know to understand the link between fleas and typhus as well as how to protect yourself, your employees, and your brand.

What is typhus?

As defined by the California Department of Public Health, murine typhus, also known as flea-borne typhus, endemic typhus, or typhus fever, is a disease caused by Rickettsia typhi and possibly Rickettsia felis, bacteria that are spread by fleas. A person can contract it by coming in contact with fleas that are carrying the typhus-causing bacteria. Fleas become infected when they bite infected animals like rats, opossums, and stray cats. These small animals do not show symptoms of infection, however. In humans, typhus can cause high fever, chills, headache, rash. Without antibiotics, it can also lead to hospitalization and in rare cases, death.


How typhus spreads

What do the Bubonic plague, leptospirosis, salmonellosis and typhus have in common? Rodents. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), rodents transmit 35 different diseases, directly and indirectly, many of which are potentially lethal. In most areas of the world, rats are the main animal host for fleas infected with murine typhus.

As we see housing trends reverse, people are moving from suburbs back to cities. With construction rising, rodents are running out of hiding places, emerging in search of new shelter and food sources. Major cities like New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Los Angeles are all seeing a rise in rat populations and the related health and safety risks that they bring along with damages to buildings, equipment, and products.

In Rentokil Steritech’s Rise of the Rats interactive infographic, see how quickly two rats can breed. Businesses can inadvertently offer ideal conditions for rats to feed and breed, sheltered from natural predators.


In addition to rats, other small animals like dogs, cats, opossums, and other wildlife can spread typhus infected fleas as well. Rodents or wildlife are often in close proximity to businesses, increasing the risk of inhabitants being bitten. Still other businesses, in an attempt to be pet-friendly, may allow employees or guests to bring pets to their business. This inadvertently introduces fleas which could be carrying dangerous pathogens.


Typhus on the rise and what you can do

A number of news stories and health department reports have reported the rising rate of typhus cases in the past two years. There is no vaccine available to prevent typhus. However, there are steps that you can take to protect your employees, clients, guests, and residents.

Educating stakeholders such as employees, building tenants and residents around proper identification of pests and reporting procedures is essential in curbing the spread of infectious diseases such as typhus. This begins with having a strong relationship with your pest control provider to keep you aware of the pest risks for your industry and offer staff training tips to proactively protect the brand.

If you’re experiencing issues with unwanted wildlife around your business, such as feral cats, opossums, or even raccoons, a pest management provider may be able to help by providing wildlife services.  

As more businesses and hotels adopt pet-friendly policies, they join the ranks of multi-family facilities and apartments where encounters with fleas are more common. Provide information to your employees on how to report flea issues so that they can be resolved with your pest management provider quickly.   

pet friendly hotel

How to identify a flea infestation

Fleas are often confused with other pests. Even as full-grown adults, fleas are small – they don’t get much larger than 3mm in length. Flea eggs are very small, about .5 mm in length, white in color, and round or oval shaped.

Identifying a flea infestation may be easier than you think. Fleas are prone to bite humans, so often the first sign of a problem is when people report flea bites or itchiness. This is especially common around feet, ankles, and lower legs.

You may also note a flea problem simply by seeing these jumping pests. Fleas can jump to great lengths. Horizontally, they can jump a length of about 8 inches, while vertically, they can get as high as just over 5 inches. Learn more amazing flea facts in this National Geographic video below.

However, before administering any DIY treatment in your business, it’s important that you properly identify the flea infestation. The best way to do so is to call in a pest management professional for help. Applying the wrong kind of treatment could only exacerbate the problem.

If you are experiencing fleas in your business you’ll want to deal with the situation quickly, safely, and effectively to protect your guests and employees from flea dangers, such as typhus. Rentokil Steritech’s experts execute our strategic approach to fleas and any other problems to ensure that your brand is protected. Call us at 800.868.0089 or visit rentokil-steritech.com to see all of our integrated pest management solutions.


Leave a Reply



Contact the experts


Fill out your details and we will call you back