Sylvatic Typhus Associated with Flying Squirrels (Glaucomys Volans)

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Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases (revision)




Sylvatic typhus is an infrequent, potentially life-threatening emerging zoonotic disease. In January of 2009, the New York State Department of Health was notified of a familial cluster of two suspected cases. Due to the paucity of typhus cases in New York, epidemiologic and environmental investigations were conducted to establish rickettsial etiology and determine potential sources of infection. Patients presented with symptoms consistent with typhus, and serologic testing of each patient confirmed infection with typhus group rickettsiae. Serologic analysis of blood obtained from southern flying squirrels (Glaucomys volans) captured from the attic crawlspace above an enclosed front porch of the cases' residence indicated evidence of infection with Rickettsia prowazekii, with 100% seroprevalence (n=11). Both patients reported spending significant time on the porch and hearing animal activity above the ceiling prior to onset of illness, implicating these flying squirrels as the likely source of infection.