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Killing Cats is the Wrong Prescription for Preventing Typhus

Killing Cats is the Wrong Prescription for Preventing Typhus

After a typhus case in April, the city of Santa Ana in California is trying to round up and kill feral cats to prevent the disease from spreading. That might make sense if feral cats spread typhus, but they don’t — fleas do, and they don’t need cats to do it.

In a press release, cat advocacy group Alley Cat Allies cites epidemiologist Deborah L. Ackerman for the fact that in the absence of cats, “fleas are versatile parasites and will simply find another host, as dogs, raccoons, opossums, mice and all mammals as well as birds are potential hosts for fleas.” Hmm, “all mammals”…by Santa Ana’s logic, the town should start trapping humans.

Alley Cat Allies asserts that typhus outbreaks “are rare,” and in at least one case spread through fleas that made their homes on dogs, not cats. The organization urged Santa Ana to follow the example of Los Angeles County, which “advises treating pets for fleas and using humane outdoor cat deterrents to control flea infestations. Instead of killing feral cats, who avoid people by nature,” Alley Cat Allies continued, Santa Ana should “provide community resources for residents to treat and protect their pets, whom they come in contact with every day.”

A report from the Associated Press posted by Silicon Valley’s confirmed Alley Cat Allies’ claims that Santa Ana would kill the cats it caught. The write-up stated that Santa Ana police were setting traps specifically for feral cats, and that they will likely “euthanize” the animals they catch “because infections run through colonies and adoption isn’t possible if they are wild and sick.” Los Angeles reported that according to local officials, “once caught, the cats will be sedated and then euthanized,” apparently regardless of whether they have fleas, let alone typhus-bearing fleas.

The news station recommended the following steps to protect against typhus:

-Pets, yards, and homes should be kept free of fleas by treating pets with flea-prevention medication.

-Eliminate places where wild animals, such as opossums, cats, rats and raccoons, can find shelter.

-Eliminate food sources that might attract wild animals.

-Wear protective gear when cleaning areas that may be infested by the above-mentioned animals.

These tips are designed to distance people from infected fleas rather than catching animals who rarely if ever interact with humans and whose deaths will not eliminate fleas. They make much more sense and are more humane than Santa Ana’s attempt to kill a few feral cats.

Aside from being misguided, Santa Ana’s cat-catching program appears ineffective: there are no reports that the town has trapped a single cat.

Santa Ana’s strange choice of strategy should not minimize the threat typhus poses. Local residents, particularly those with young children, fear an outbreak, however unlikely it may be. Typhus can be fatal if it is not treated with antibiotics. Symptoms of the disease “include fever, headaches, chills, body aches and rashes on the chest, back, arms and legs,” reports.

Most media outlets report that there has been only one case of typhus in Santa Ana: a child who had to be hospitalized but was later released. One channel, however, NBC Los Angeles, reported that this was actually the second reported case of typhus in the area this year.


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Photo credit: Armed Forces Pest Management Board

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7:32AM PDT on May 28, 2014

Selfish, hysterical humans caring only for themselves so often react cruelly and irrationally.

8:33PM PDT on May 27, 2014


8:43AM PDT on Jun 9, 2013

Omg. Read comments. More clarification: 1. Typhus and typhoid fever are different illnesses. Murine typhus can only be transmitted by a flea that was infected by a rat, cat or possum. 2. Cats are carriers. They don't get sick and they cannot be treated.

8:31AM PDT on Jun 9, 2013

This is wildly misinformed. Some points: 1. Cats, possums and rats can carry murine typhus. Other animals listed cannot. They can spread typhus carrying fleas, but no typhus. 2. A flea that bites an infected animal will spawn 14 generations of fleas that carry the illness. 3. Cats can be tested to see if they carry typhus. 4. Allowing feral cats that carry the disease to roam and be bitten continues the spread to of a horrible, deadly illness. 5. As a typhus survivor, it breaks my heart that people value the life of feral cats over my life. 6. Maybe this petition should be that cats be tested before they be euthanized, along with possums. 7. Seriously. Typhus was I eradicated and it's back and it kills. Doesn't that worry you?

3:55AM PST on Nov 28, 2012

Yes Lauren B.
Sad and unecessary.
However keep going because today an Act of Parliament has been signed out of sheer democratic numbers who protested to ban wild animals in circuses. YeeHah!!!!!!

5:06AM PDT on Jun 12, 2012

sad news but thanks for sharing

7:09AM PDT on Jun 11, 2012

It's such a shame that we in this country think its okay to teach our children that killing defenseless animals for no real reason is a good thing and that it solves problems...

A righteous man cares for the needs of his animals, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel...
Proverbs 12: 10 (NLV)

10:04AM PDT on Jun 8, 2012

How is this country so smart yet so stupid at the same time?

11:14AM PDT on Jun 6, 2012

I cannot believe the ignorance that leads to these inhumane acts. I certainly hope this municipality reverses its decision!

10:32AM PDT on Jun 5, 2012

The stupidity of humanity never ceases to amaze me. But when educated nations indulge their fears I am speechless.

"Christians whose eyes are fixed on the awfulness of crucifixion are in a special position to understand the awfulness of innocent suffering. The Cross of Christ is God's absolute identification with the weak, the powerless, and the vulnerable, but most of all with unprotected, undefended, innocent suffering." Rev. Dr. Andrew Linzey

These kittens like all life created by God are here by His design and for His purpose and they have God in their breath and in their being.

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