What is typhus?

GALVESTON COUNTY, Texas – Gordon Greenleaf said his illness came on gradually from a flea bite he never noticed.

"I had fever and chills both," he said. "I've never had such a debilitating illness. It just zaps you of everything."

After two weeks of fatigue and no appetite, he checked into an area hospital where he said tests determined he had typhus, a bacterial infection transmitted by fleas.

"I had my doubts about whether I was coming out of that hospital," Greenleaf said.

Three weeks later, he's now on the mend at his home just as a new warning about typhus was issued in Galveston County.

Researchers said the number of typhus cases in Galveston County this year already has equaled the total for all of 2017.

The bacterial infection once was believed to have been eradicated in Galveston County. While rarely fatal, people can become extremely sick with pain and fever.

The Galveston County Health District reports 17 people with the infection so far this year. After years with no instances, the first new case was reported in 2012. Another five were reported in 2013.

Here are some things to know about typhus:

What is it?

Typhus itself is a bacterial infection that is transmitted by fleas.

"What happens is the fleas feed off the rodents and opossums and then make the jump to domestic animals like cats or dogs and then make their way to you," Dr. Peter Hotez, the dean at the National School of Tropical Medicine, said.

Can it be treated?

If caught early, typhus is easy to treat.

It's treated with antibiotics. If left untreated, it can lead to severe complications of the liver or even the brain.

What are the symptoms?

Fever, headache, rash, weakness, vomiting, upset stomach.

How to prevent it

Keep dogs flea-free with treatments and visit the vet. Avoid marshy or wooded areas where fleas may be present and wear repellent. Don’t touch wildlife like opossums or rats.

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