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MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2009 Nov 20;58(45):1267-70.

Outbreak of Rickettsia typhi infection - Austin, Texas, 2008.


Murine typhus is a fleaborne rickettsial disease caused by the organism Rickettsia typhi. Symptoms include fever, headache, chills, vomiting, nausea, myalgia, and rash. Although murine typhus is endemic in southern Texas, only two cases had been reported during the past 10 years from Austin, located in central Texas. On August 8, 2008, the Austin/Travis County Department of Health and Human Services (ATCDHHS) contacted the Texas Department of State Health Services (TDSHS) concerning a cluster of 14 illnesses with serologic findings indicative of murine typhus. On August 12, 2008, TDSHS initiated an investigation with assistance from CDC to characterize the magnitude of the outbreak and assess potential animal reservoirs and peridomestic factors that might have contributed to disease. This report summarizes the clinical and environmental findings of that investigation. Thirty-three confirmed cases involved illness comparable to that associated with previous outbreaks of murine typhus. Illness ranged from mild to severe, with 73% of patients requiring hospitalization. Delayed diagnosis and administration of no or inappropriate antibiotics might have contributed to illness severity. Environmental investigation suggested that opossums and domestic animals likely played a role in the maintenance and spread of R. typhi; however, their precise role in the outbreak has not been determined. These findings underscore the need to increase awareness of murine typhus and communicate appropriate treatment and prevention measures through the distribution of typhus alerts before and throughout the peak vector season of March-November.

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