Follow-up Items

A few follow-up items related to my past couple of posts: the first sheds some additional light on the Santa Ana typhus scare, while the second provides a little historical context to The Sacramento Bee’s recent reporting on Wildlife Services.

1. Typhus, Fleas, and Cats
Somehow I missed press releases from both Stray Cat Alliance and Alley Cat Allies, both issued yesterday in response to the Santa Ana typhus scare. (My apologies!) Below is the SCA release in its entirety (as I’ve been unable to find a link). The ACA release can be found here.

Epidemiologist Deborah Ackerman and Stray Cat Alliance urge flea control to prevent typhus outbreak; opposes trapping, killing neighborhood cats

LOS ANGELES, Calif., May 29, 2012 – Responding to a case of typhus reported in Santa Ana, epidemiologist Deborah L. Ackerman, MS, PhD, advises local residents to take preventive measures focusing on flea control and urges people to ensure that dogs and cats as well as their homes and premises are treated for fleas.

Ackerman, who is a member of the board of advisors of, a national nonprofit advocacy organization for the humane care, rescue and protection of cats, opposes local authorities’ plan to trap and kill stray, feral and free-roaming cats in the area.

“Several investigations of outbreaks of flea-born typhus in Los Angeles County have demonstrated that pet ownership is a more significant risk factor than exposure to free-roaming cats,” said Ackerman. “Fleas live on cats, dogs, opossums, rats, mice, and so on. If we remove cats that host fleas, the fleas will find another host.”

Ackerman cited the following research (references below):

  • In Texas, where outbreaks of flea-born typhus also occur, officials have found that fleas on pet dogs rather than on cats are more likely to harbor the infection.
  • An investigation of an outbreak of typhus in Los Angeles County found that of 30 people who contracted murine typhus, 87 percent had cats and dogs; only 50 percent were exposed to free-roaming neighborhood cats. 90 percent of pet cats were found seropositive for typhus but only 11.5 percent of neighborhood cats. No cats from control areas (such as impounds at local animal shelters) were seropositive. Thus, pet cats were the most likely source of infected fleas rather than neighborhood cats or cats that had been impounded in the local animal shelter.
  • A 2005 investigation of an outbreak of six cases of flea-borne typhus on one block in Pasadena found that three out of four households representing four out of six cases had indoor/outdoor cats, and reported the presence of opossums.

“It is misguided and ineffective to target the free-roaming cats rather than advise the public, especially pet owners, to eliminate fleas from their own pets and premises,” said Ackerman.

“We have ample evidence and documentation that free-roaming community cats are not a human health risk,” said Christi Metropole, Stray Cat Alliance executive director. “Santa Ana is making a deadly mistake by trapping and killing cats rather than humane care and control, including flea treatments if necessary.”

About Stray Cat Alliance
Stray Cat Alliance works for a no-kill nation, where every cat has a right to be safe, healthy and valued. Since 2000, it has empowered hundreds of volunteers and thousands of community members to care for more than 75,000 cats in need. Stray Cat Alliance performs no-cost Trap/Neuter/Return (T/N/R), advocacy, and other health services, and runs an adoption program in Southern California, and has placed thousands of cats in homes. Stray Cat Alliance advocates humane care and protection of free roaming community cats, supports the reduction of kill rates for cats in shelters today, and helps communities develop cost-effective spay/neuter programs of their own. See for more information.


Boostrom A, Beier MS, Macaluso JA et al.  Geographic association of Rickettsia felis-Infected opossums with human murine typhus, Texas. Emerging Infectious Diseases. 2002; 8(6): 549-554.

Campbell J. Typhus in Travis County, 2008.  Epidemiology & Surveillance Quarterly Newsletter 2009; 2(4): 4-6.

Robinson LE. Murine typhus in Texas.  The EpiLink 2008; 65:3, 1-3

Rust W, Dryden M. The biology, ecology and management of the cat flea. Ann. Rev. Entomol. 1997; 42:451-473

Sorvillo FJ, Gondo B, Emmons R et al. A suburban focus of endemic typhus in Los Angeles County: association with seropositive domestic cats and opossums. Am J Trop Med Hyg. 1993;48(2):269-73.

Suburban Outbreak of Murine Typhus South Pasadena, May 2005. Acute Communicable Disease Control, 2005 Special Reports, LA County Dept. of PH, 2005

2. Wildlife Services

In response to Tuesday’s post about a possible Congressional investigation into Wildlife Services, Animal People editor Merritt Clifton contacted me, noting that Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) “has been gunning for USDA Wildlife Services for quite a while.”

Clifton included a story that appeared in the June 2000 issue of the paper. Among the highlights:

“Representatives Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) and Charles Bass (R-New Hampshire) announced in mid-May that they would seek an amendment to the Agriculture Appropriations bill for fiscal 2001 which would cap the USDA Wildlife Services budget at $28.7 million.

This would eliminate subsidized predator control for ranchers, consisting chiefly of killing coyotes, but would not interfere with killing wildlife under contract from other government agencies—for instance, to protect airports, endangered species, and golf greens on public land.

DeFazio and Bass sought a cut of $10 million from the Wildlife Services budget in 1998, when their bill was approved on first reading, 229–193. The vote was reversed the next day, however, after a night of frantic lobbying by Wildlife Services senior staff and representatives of the livestock industry. It stood little chance of passage by the U.S. Senate in any event, where members friendly to western ranchers chair all the key committees it would have to clear.”

It’s not clear that any elected officials are “gunning for” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service just yet. But perhaps it’s only a matter of time. As Clifton’s story points out, the connection between the two agencies goes beyond their remarkably similar names. (To clarify: Wildlife Services is part of the Department of Agriculture, while USFWS is part of the Department of the Interior.)

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service often hires Wildlife Services, and routinely approves killings of so-called nuisance animals, no matter how futile the effort—like the fall 1999 massacre of more than 17,000 starlings at the Knott Landfill in Deschutes, Oregon. After a brief lull, while researchers noted that the local starling population seemed undiminished, the killing resumed in February 2000.

Still, the Fish and Wildlife Service on March 31 rejected a USDA Wildlife Services application to kill 2.2 million blackbirds this year in the Dakotas. Unable to prevent an estimated $5 million to $10 million worth of bird damage each fall to a sunflower crop which fetches between $330 million and $500 million per year, Wildlife Services staff theorized in 1994 that they might accomplish more by poisoning the birds as they migrate north each spring, so that fewer would join the fall migrations southward. Because the Migratory Bird Treaty Act prohibits killing birds who are not actually damaging crops, Wildlife Services poisoned 250,000 blackbirds in 1994 as the purported beginning of a five-year ‘scientific experiment.’”

As always, my sincere thanks to Merritt Clifton, whose knowledge and perspective (and generosity) I admire greatly.