LOS ANGELES (CBSNewYork/AP) — In the same week the CDC is reporting that the widespread outbreak of measles is closing in on 1,000 confirmed cases, another rare and potentially fatal illness has returned to a major U.S. city.
A Los Angeles police detective has been diagnosed with typhoid fever, an illness typically spread through contaminated food or water and vaccinated against for a century. At least five other officers who work in the same station are showing symptoms, union officials said Thursday.
The six officers work in the city’s Central Division station, where a state investigation into unsafe and unsanitary working conditions led to penalties and more than $5,000 in fines earlier this month, documents show.
The area those officers patrol is also at the center of the investigation, as it’s become known as a breeding ground for infectious diseases.
Central Division station polices downtown Los Angeles, including the notorious “Skid Row” area where hundreds of homeless people camp on the streets. The police union says officers have recently contracted hepatitis A and staph infections while working in the neighborhood. They’re demanding the city clean up Skid Row for their own safety.
“The last thing I need is my members coming to work worried about contracting an infectious disease and bringing it home to their families,” Los Angeles Police Protective League treasurer Robert Harris said.
WHAT IS TYPHOID?
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says typhoid fever isn’t common in the U.S. but affects 22 million people annually in other countries.
Symptoms of typhoid include high fevers lasting for an extended period of time, stomach pains, headache, and loss of appetite. Some patients develop constipation and a rash. The most severe cases can result in internal bleeding and death.
Mary Mallon, who became infamously known as “Typhoid Mary,” was the first identified healthy carrier of typhoid. The Irish immigrant was diagnosed in New York and it’s believed she spread the illness while working as a cook for wealthy families. In 1907, Typhoid Mary was detained for three years by local health officials, fearing she would continue spread the illness.
In 1914, a vaccination against typhoid became common medicine in the United States.
The illness is different from typhus, which can spread from infected fleas and caused an outbreak earlier this year that sickened homeless people who live near City Hall and even sickened a deputy city attorney.
Dr. Abinash Virk, an infectious disease specialist with the Mayo Clinic, said it’s likely the officers were infected through contaminated food or drinks from the same cafeteria or restaurant.
She said homeless people could have a slightly higher risk of typhoid fever than others because of limited access to clean bathrooms or being immigrants from countries where the illness is more prevalent, but she doubted that the officers got sick from their work on Skid Row.
“You’re not just going to get it from shaking hands,” she said.
Dustin DeRollo, a union spokesman, said officers who patrol Skid Row “walk through the feces, urine and trash” — conditions that “should alarm everyone and must be addressed.”
As the country’s anti-vaccination movement continues to push back against health officials, time will tell which once-eradicated disease will be the next to come back and haunt the nation in the 21st century.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)