LOS ANGELES — A California woman said she contracted typhus after she disposed of a dead rat found in her backyard. She later found out her neighbor had also contracted the virus.
Margaret Holzmann of Monrovia initially thought she had COVID-19 when she began to feel ill. But after a negative test, and a relentless headache and fever that lingered for weeks, she went back to her doctor looking for answers.
“He asked me the relevant question which is, ‘Have you had any contact with wild animals?’” Holzmann told KTLA-TV Channel 5. “I thought, ‘No, not really,’ and then I thought, ‘Oh, wait. There was that rat!’”
Weeks earlier, Holzmann disposed of a dead rat found in her yard that was apparently infested with fleas carrying typhus, a bacterial disease often carried by fleas and ticks that causes fever, headaches and rashes within a couple of weeks of exposure.
Holzmann shared her story and diagnosis on the NextDoor app, and as it turns out, she wasn’t alone — other neighbors in her area had also contracted typhus.
“Two blocks over, [a neighbor] says her grandfather got it around the same time I did and [it was] also, same thing: disposing of a dead rat on their property,” Holzmann said.
It’s unclear how many others in Holzmann’s neighborhood have contracted the disease or how it has spread.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, while some rare cases of typhus can be persistent, the disease can be easily treated with a round of antibiotics, if caught early.
Holzmann said she’s sharing her story in hopes that she can warn others about the dangers of handling and disposing dead wildlife.
“If you see something in your yard, call someone who can dispose of it safely and don’t try to do it yourself,” she said.