LA City Hall official is the latest struck by TYPHUS in the city’s raging epidemic

Liz Greenwood does not want to return to City Hall until it has been fumigated of typhus-carrying rats and fleas

Typhus – an infectious disease spread by fleas – is sweeping LA County, infected a city hall prosecutor and more than 100 others. 

Officials recorded 124 cases of the disease in the county last year, and there is no sign of the spread letting up.

The outbreak has largely been seen as exclusively affecting homeless people. 

But today, Deputy City Attorney Liz Greenwood revealed she was diagnosed in November – blaming the fleas in her office at LA’s City Hall. 

And the symptoms Greenwood described sounded excruciating. 

‘It felt like somebody was driving railroad stakes through my eyes and out the back of my neck,’ Greenwood told NBC Los Angeles. 

‘Who gets typhus? It’s a medieval disease that’s caused by trash.’ 

She believes the rats that nestle in the building’s trash were carrying fleas that transmitted the disease.

‘There are rats in City Hall and City Hall East,’ Greenwood told NBC. ‘There are enormous rats and their tails are as long as their bodies.’ 

She has yet to go back to work, and is calling on the city to fumigate the building before she does ‘because I thought I was going to die’.

‘This is a terrible illness and I wouldn’t wish this on anybody,’ she said, adding: ‘It’s not just homeless folks getting it.’ 


Typhus is a bacterial disease that causes fever, headache, rash, muscle ache, and fever and chills.

In severe cases, patients can require hospitalisation due to hepatitis or internal bleeding. 

It is caused by the bacteria Rickettsia typhi and possibly Rickettsia felis, which are carried by fleas, lice, mites or ticks.

The pests live on animals, particularly feral and stray cats, rats and opossums, but do not make their host animals unwell.

Flea-borne typhus is endemic in parts of LA and Orange County.

The disease also often occurs in Texas and Hawaii.

Around 200 cases occur every year throughout the US, particularly in coastal regions.  

Bacteria spread when faeces from an infected insect contaminate a person’s cut or graze while the insect is sucking their blood.

If the person scratches the bite area, the bacteria from the faeces can enter their bloodstream.

Bacteria can also be rubbed into a person’s eyes, or, in rare cases, inhaled. 

Symptoms then appear six-to-14 days later.  

Typhus can be treated via antibiotics, with most people recovering within a few days.

Between two and four per cent of people who do not receive treatment die worldwide.

Typhus can be prevented by avoiding contact with fleas, mites, ticks and lice via:

  • Discouraging wild animals around the home
  • Keeping rubbish covered 
  • Using flea control on pets


Typhus was first described in 1489 by the Spanish, when their soldiers started developing symptoms during the War of Granada.

They lost 17,000 men to typhus – almost six times the amount that died in battle (3,000).

Then, reports of it started popping up all over, particularly in dungeons and warzones.

Sufferers developed fevers, spots, delirium and gangrene.

It killed 100,000 people in Ireland in the early 1800s.

It was first recorded in the US in the late 1800s, with an epidemic in Philadelphia in 1837.

In 1843, the son of President Franklin Pierce died of typhus.

During the Civil War it was known as ‘camp fever’, killing hundreds of thousands.


Typhus can be treated via antibiotics, with most people recovering within a few days.

Between two and four per cent of people who do not receive treatment die worldwide. 

Flea-borne typhus occurs when feces from an infected insect come into contact with a person’s cut or gets rubbed into their eyes. 

These fleas often live on feral cats and rats who are attracted to areas with trash on the streets.

The current flea-borne typhus outbreak in LA County is unusually severe. Just 67 cases were recorded in the whole of 2017. And Pasadena and Long Beach have an average of five or six per year. 

Officials have not managed to explain why typhus is suddenly spreading in the area as nine cases have been recorded in downtown LA in the past two months. They are investigating the issue.

Symptoms of typhus in humans include fever, chills, headaches, rashes and muscle ache. 

In rare cases, the infection can cause liver failure or be fatal – an estimated two to four per cent of untreated patients die. 

Typhus usually affects around 200 people across the US every year, according to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH).

Health officials were alerted to the outbreak when a cluster of nine cases occurred in downtown LA between July and August.

The infection is endemic – commonly found – in parts of LA and Orange County, Southern California.

Greenwood believes the rats that nestle in the building's trash were carrying fleas that transmitted the disease

Greenwood believes the rats that nestle in the building’s trash were carrying fleas that transmitted the disease

Fleas carrying the infection can live on cats, rats or opossums, however, the animals themselves do not suffer symptoms.

Typhus often spreads in areas where there is an accumulation of trash that attracts wild animals.

The infection cannot be transmitted from person-to-person and is treatable with antibiotics. There is no vaccine in the US.

Up to four per cent of people worldwide who are untreated die, the CDPH claims.

To prevent infection, LA’s public health department recommends residents: use flea control on pets, tuck their pants into their socks or boots when outside and avoid wild or stray animals. 

Texas experienced a flea-borne typhus outbreak around this time last year.

More than 400 cases occurred from the start of 2017 to the end of November – the highest number for 16 years.