Los Angeles recently experienced an outbreak of typhus—a disease spread by infected fleas on rats and other animals—in downtown streets.
…The diseases have flared as the nation’s homeless population has grown in the past two years.
…The diseases spread quickly and widely among people living outside or in shelters, helped along by sidewalks contaminated with human feces, crowded living conditions, weakened immune systems, and limited access to health care.
“The hygiene situation is just horrendous” for people living on the streets. …“It becomes just like a Third World environment, where their human feces contaminate the areas where they are eating and sleeping.”
…People living on the streets or in homeless shelters are vulnerable to such outbreaks because their weakened immune systems are worsened by stress, malnutrition, and sleep deprivation. Many also have mental illness and substance-abuse disorders, which can make it harder for them to stay healthy or get health care.
…Typhus is a bacterial infection that can cause a high fever, stomach pain, and chills but can be treated with antibiotics. Outbreaks are more common in overcrowded and trash-filled areas that attract rats.
…“It really is unconscionable,” says Bobby Watts, the CEO of the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, a policy and advocacy organization. “These are all preventable diseases.”