Healthline: In recent months, hepatitis A, Shigella bacteria, and typhus outbreaks have all been reported in cities across the country.
Yes, you read all of that correctly. Recent cases of these rare conditions have been cropping up in particularly vulnerable communities in large urban areas.
These diseases have especially been on the rise in homeless communities, where lack of medical care and unhygienic conditions have served as a breeding ground for so-called “medieval” diseases — diseases that typically don’t pose a threat to the general American population in the 21st century.
“We clearly are not in medieval times, but hepatitis A has reared its head, shigellosis [caused by Shigella] has appeared and, occasionally, even typhus . . .” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
Schaffner told Healthline that the rise of these usually rare conditions leave people who are homeless — or live in unhealthy conditions that are rife with flea-bearing rats, for instance — especially at risk.
Essentially, the appearance of these conditions highlights public health crises that stem from social inequities that leave certain communities more prone to disease.
“The homeless, for instance, is a population that has [a] whole series of underlying illnesses that make them particularly susceptible. You have higher rates of substance abuse, drugs, and alcohol, often some kinds of mental disturbance, anxiety depression, et cetera, that are underlying illnesses from a previous hard life,” Schaffner explained. “So, all those things combined make this a susceptible population, especially [when] putting them in close contact with human feces . . . and occasionally around animals such as rats.”
In October, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health announced that it was investigating an outbreak of typhus in downtown Los Angeles.
Flea-borne typhus, which is what has been proliferating throughout the city, is caused by bacteria spread by fleas, and is usually found in tropical areas. In the United States, the condition is rare, with most instances taking place in California, Texas, and Hawaii, averaging about 300 cases per year. . . .
You can get the disease by coming in contact with infected fleas that initially contract the condition themselves by biting animals like rats. . . .
So, is it a big deal?
The answer is a decided “yes.” Typhus can be severe. It causes fever and chills, body aches, and a rash, among other symptoms, but cases can be more severe as well.
If left untreated, it could lead to serious damage of the brain, heart, lungs, kidneys, and liver, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
And it’s not the only old disease on the block.
Shigella bacteria, which causes diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps, according to the CDC, has been sweeping through the homeless population in Seattle in recent years.
In Seattle and the surrounding county, men who have sex with men and men who are HIV-positive were reported to be at the highest risk, followed by international travelers.
Until recently, outbreaks in the homeless communities weren’t as common.
Beyond this, the CDC said that it’s currently assisting 18 states in addressing hepatitis A outbreaks in people who experience homelessness as well as people who use injectable and non-injectable drugs.
Many of these conditions flourished in past centuries when cities had less stringent sanitation guidelines, where human feces, close quarters, and contaminated water and food made for the ideal conditions for these kinds of bacteria and infections to thrive.
What happens if these microorganisms morph or mutate to more broadly dangerous and even deadly types? That’s another good reason to move out of the cities.
“And there shall be . . . pestilences.” Matthew 24:7.