A recent report from Kaiser Health News raises serious concerns about the spread of “medieval diseases” that are resurging in some parts of the US.
“Infectious diseases — some that ravaged populations in the Middle Ages — are resurging in California and around the country, and are hitting homeless populations especially hard,” the report explains.
Los Angeles recently experienced an outbreak of typhus — a disease spread by infected fleas on rats and other animals — in downtown streets. Officials briefly closed part of City Hall after reporting that rodents had invaded the building.
People in Washington state have been infected with Shigella bacteria, which is spread through feces and causes the diarrheal disease shigellosis, as well as Bartonella quintana, which spreads through body lice and causes trench fever.
Hepatitis A, also spread primarily through feces, infected more than 1,000 people in Southern California in the past two years. The disease also has erupted in New Mexico, Ohio and Kentucky, primarily among people who are homeless or use drugs. (source)
These diseases will eventually spread to the public.
While the outbreaks are occurring primarily among the homeless, public health officials warn that these diseases can easily spread outside of that population.
Terms like “disaster” and “public health crisis” are being used to describe the outbreaks.
In his State of the State speech in February, California Governor Gavin Newsom warned, “Our homeless crisis is increasingly becoming a public health crisis,” citing outbreaks of hepatitis A in San Diego County, syphilis in Sonoma County, and typhus in Los Angeles County.
“Typhus,” he said. “A medieval disease. In California. In 2019.”
The diseases sometimes are referred to as “medieval” because people in that era lived in squalid conditions without clean water or sewage treatment, said Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, a professor of medicine and public health at UCLA.
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