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 MercuryNews.com 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.”
KTLA.com 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,” MercuryNews.com 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.
Photo credit: Armed Forces Pest Management Board