Flea-borne typhus outbreak in Los Angeles may cause officials to rip out carpet in city buildings

All of the carpets in City Hall and City Hall East may need to be ripped out due to a typhus outbreak in downtown Los Angeles, according to Council President Herb Wesson, who said a city employee possibly contracted the infectious disease while at work.

Noting that typhus is typically spread by fleas that have been infected by rats, cats and opossums, Wesson also wants city staff to report on the scope of vermin and pest control issues within the Civic Center complex, according to a newly filed motion.

Health officials in October announced there was a typhus outbreak in Los Angeles County, including in the downtown area that includes Skid Row, where an estimated 2,000 homeless people sleep.

Flea-borne typhus can cause high fever, chills, headache and rashes in people and can be treated with antibiotics. The disease can spread in areas where there is an accumulation of trash, but is not transmitted person-to-person, according to the California Department of Public Health.

Wesson's motion says there has been a "noticeable increase in the volume of rodents in the area and within city buildings," and also referenced a recent report by NBC4, which featured a City Hall East employee who is convinced she contracted typhus in November through contact with fleas in her City Hall East office.

The motion also says that Wesson's office became aware of vermin issues within his personal City Hall office in November and brought in pest control experts who set traps, advised the removal of all live plants which the rodents were consuming, and recommended the removal or containment of all food products.

The motion says that within two weeks, Wesson's office was also experiencing fleas in the carpets, and removed all of that floor covering.

"Since the work has been completed, our employees have not reported any new rodent or flea issues within the office," the motion states.

The motion would instruct city staff to report back with a cost estimate and plan to remove all carpets in City Hall and City Hall East, and to report back with an assessment of all live plants in any city building, city-owned facility and city-operated facility within downtown, including which varieties are most attractive to vermin.

The motion also suggests exploring the drafting of a policy that would require all city employees to secure their food after hours and require custodial services to dispose of all food left out by any employee.

In response to Channel 4's report, Mayor Eric Garcetti's office issued a statement that said, "Last fall we directed multiple city departments to begin a coordinated and comprehensive effort to improve cleanliness and protect public health in the Civic Center, including City Hall and City Hall East. In addition to increased trash collection and cleanings, aggressive action has been taken to address pests both in the buildings and in the surrounding outside areas -- including abatement treatments and the filling of 60 rodent burrows and 114 tree wells. This work in busy and highly populated public buildings is executed carefully to protect workers and visitors, and the scheduling of extermination activities takes these factors into consideration."

The California Department of Public Health reported recently that there were 167 confirmed typhus cases during 2018, and the majority of them were in Los Angeles County.

CNS contributed to this report.