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Chasing typhus (and chagas disease, dengue, and west nile disease) in Texas

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  • Chasing typhus (and chagas disease, dengue, and west nile disease) in Texas


    Chasing typhus in Texas
    by Amy Maxmen
    October 12, 2013 6:30AM ET
    Researchers expose scourges lurking in the United States

    HOUSTON ? Raymond Bares owns two Harley-Davidson motorcycles and a small business, Bares Auto Repair, in La Marque near Houston. He rarely catches a cold, so he was dumbfounded by unrelenting fevers in early July. After a few days, Bares went to see a doctor and returned home with antibiotics. The drugs did nothing to lower his temperature, and his head hurt so badly that he began to vomit. He checked into a hospital, where doctors ran tests for HIV, hepatitis C, West Nile fever and other infections. They all turned up negative.

    As another week passed, his wife, an administrator at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB), asked the doctors she worked with for urgent help. Eventually the story reached Lucas Blanton, a young infectious disease physician at UTMB who studies murine typhus, an ancient bacterial infection no longer thought to plague the United States. Blanton immediately recognized Bares' symptoms and prescribed drugs to treat murine typhus, which is spread by fleas. Within 72 hours, Bares' fever lifted as quickly as it had come.

    Murine typhus is one of a handful of diseases now surfacing in Texas, in part because of a cadre of tropical disease specialists trained to spot them. Their sleuthing techniques range from assessing old blood samples to testing insects for parasites. In the past two years, they've uncovered murine typhus, as well as two diseases thought to exist only south of the Mexican border, dengue fever and Chagas' disease, in people who rarely leave the U.S...