If you’re living in SoCal, more specifically the Los Angeles or Orange County area then you’ve most likely heard about the recent Typhus Outbreak. Well, guess who was part of the unlucky bunch who contracted the virus. Ya boy.
What is Typhus?
Typhus, also known as Murine Typhus or Typhus Fever, is a virus that is transmitted through fleas. Not the kind of fleas that your dog gets, rather the type of flea found in outdoor animals like stray cats, rats or possums. It’s common in overcrowded areas and unclean streets. Typhus can be fatal if left untreated.
What Happens When You Get Infected?
My case is probably more extreme than others because I waited so long before going to the doctor because I contracted it about a week before the outbreak was reported. Although it’s still unknown how I got the virus, I can tell you what followed.
It Starts With a Headache
I was at my local Target one night when I felt a sudden wave of lightheadedness. The type you get when you don’t eat for a long period of time. Initially, I thought it was peculiar because I had food shortly before, but I ended up ignoring it. That night while getting ready for bed, the dizziness persisted but since I was ready for sleep I resumed ignoring it. Shortly after getting into bed that night I got a mild headache.
Believe me when I say that I have had plenty of headaches in my time, but this particular headache blew up into the worst migraine I have ever had in my life. In all honesty, I thought my head was going to explode or I would have some sort of brain aneurysm. Showcasing my trademark stubbornness, I took a pain pill and continued my quest for some sleep.
By the next morning, which was a Monday, I had little to no sleep and the massive migraine remained. I called out of work because there was no way I was going to be able to focus if I showed up at the office while my brain was trying to push my eyeballs out of their sockets. Eventually, the migraine subsided and I went to bed that night and slept like a pup.
The next day at the office I was good as new and went through the day like I normally would have. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized that I was unusually hot and sweaty. Again, I just figured I was coming down with a fever so I took some Tylenol, showered and went to bed.
I woke up in the middle of the night completely soaked in my own sweat. My T-Shirt literally looked as if someone dumped a bucket of water on me. I jumped out of bed and turned on the light. I was shocked as I looked at my bed and saw my blankets and sheets drenched in the shape of my body. Feeling disgusted, I took a late night shower and switched out my bedding. I called out of work on Wednesday.
At that point it, was obvious that I was dealing with a powerful fever but I was sure I would be able to stick it out and wait for it to pass. I didn’t have an appetite at all that day and all I craved was cold water. I don’t think I have consumed so much water in my life as I did that day.
When Thursday came around, I woke up feeling…okay. Good enough to go to work I figured. I used up all my sick days because I realized earlier in the year that I never used them anyway, so I knew I couldn’t miss too much work before it started affecting my finances. I got through the day, but I was sweating profusely as time went on.
Friday morning I woke up after another sweaty night feeling like I had all the energy sucked out of my body. I really wanted to miss work but I knew I needed to suck it up if I wanted to pay my bills. Well, that didn’t last very long because, after an hour at the office, I had to go home because I was ready to pass out at any minute. That drive home was very scary considering how dizzy I was.
I got home, showered, guzzled down more water and went to bed. I woke up that evening burning up again. I knew I should go to the emergency room at that point but I continued to stand up the fever just because I was trying to save a buck.
Saturday morning was worse than Friday. I stayed in bed the entire day. No food since Wednesday. I didn’t have an appetite and all I could drink was water and Powerade. I knew I had to have some form of protein so I attempted to reach out to nearby friends to request that they bring me a smoothie from my local Jamba Juice, but I had no luck. Eventually, I dragged myself out of bed and went to Target to purchase a bag of grapes. Yes, grapes. They were small, cold and easy to eat. I felt that I would pass out at any moment so I rushed to get back home.
When Sunday finally rolled back around, 7 full days after the symptoms started, I hadn’t eaten anything other than a couple grapes for 4 days. It was a particularly hot day in SoCal that day, being about 100 degrees or so. I wouldn’t have known though because I was ice cold. I’m not exaggerating when I say that although it was scorching outside, I felt as though I were in a snowstorm with no clothes on. My body was shivering uncontrollably. After running a few errands with my sister, I got home and put on a sweater and wrapped myself in a blanket. My sister was trying to force me to go to the ER because it was clear at that point that something was terribly wrong. I couldn’t deny it any longer and off I went.
When I got to the ER, it was packed with people as usual. Feeling slightly better, I got to the check-in window where I was pre-screened. All the nurse had to do was take my temperature before they knew I had to jump ahead of everyone in line. They immediately took me to a room where they rapidly checked my vitals. My oxygen level was alarmingly low and my heart was beating at more than twice the normal rate. I was in a gown and in my own room within ten minutes of arriving at the hospital.
The Mystery Illness
Let me remind you that this is before the outbreak of Typhus was reported so no one was really looking for it. In fact, Typhus is a rather rare virus that is usually only found in third world countries. After about two hours in the ER and doctors going back and forth ruling out various causes, I was told that they were going to admit to the hospital me because of my heart rate. Initially, they thought I had pneumonia. Then they thought it was West Nile Virus and then Hepatitis C. All were ruled out.
I wasn’t too happy about being admitted because that meant I would miss more work and losing more money on top of having to pay the medical bills. In fact, by that time, I was feeling better. I had been given general antibiotics and Tylenol to calm the fever down and it worked.
The next day is when everything went downhill.
I woke up the next day in the hospital soaked in my own sweat again. I asked the nurse if she could lower the temperature in the room because I was burning up. It was already at 70 degrees. I don’t have to tell you that being extremely hot and not being able to do anything about it is one of the most uncomfortable feelings one can experience.
I experienced a short-lived period where the fever went away only for my body to drop in temperature again, causing me to shake uncontrollably. The nurses tried to do what they could to help by putting blanket after blanket on me even though they told me it was a bad idea. I told them I was freezing cold and that once I was able to stop shaking that they could remove them. It didn’t take long for my body to stabilize.
This is when the Infectious Disease doctor entered the room with the news that they knew the cause of my fever. I tested positive for Murine Typhus. I was asked dozens of times if I traveled out of the country recently, came into contact with feral animals, went hiking, walked through areas of poor hygiene, all of which I hadn’t.
At least we knew what the issue was and how they could begin treatment. If only I had gone to the ER days sooner…
The next day, after they put me on doxycycline, the correct antibiotic to fight the virus, I was in severe pain. My body ached, my heart was still beating at two times the normal rate and the nurses wouldn’t let me walk. They claimed I was a “fall risk” although I had no problem walking when I got to the hospital or up until this point. It was my third day in the hospital and I was becoming restless.
At some point that evening the nurse came in to check my vitals and take some more blood. While he was checking my heartbeat, he asked me if I could sit up so he could get a better listen. It was then that I realized how weak I had gotten because the struggle to shimmy my body up was real. After he left, I was still catching my breath from moving five centimeters upward. After about a minute of heavy breathing, I began to realize that I couldn’t catch my breath. I tried slow-breathing to regulate it but it didn’t work.
Suddenly it felt like my throat was closing up and no air was getting to my lungs. I called for the nurse and he coached me through some breathing exercises to no avail. Two more nurses came in to help, one of them putting a bag over my nose and mouth to keep me from hyperventilating. It wasn’t working. At this point, I was beginning to panic because it was going on for too long. They attached various breathing devices to my face, none of which were helping. The last one they tried finally regulated my breathing enough for me to catch my breath as it shot oxygen into my nose at a high rate.
I stayed on that breathing machine for the duration of my stay. It wasn’t until a week after I had gotten out of the hospital that my doctor had told me that they were seconds away from putting me into a medically induced coma and putting a breathing tube through my neck. In fact, after that ordeal, I couldn’t speak more than two words without gasping for air. Think of Stevie from Malcolm in the Middle That’s how I was talking.
After the ordeal, I was moved to the Pulmonary floor of the hospital, as their biggest concern at that point was my breathing. X-Rays showed that my lungs had completely filled with fluid and since the Typhus was already being treated, their main goal was to get me breathing normally again.
Seven days after checking in to the ER, experiencing high fevers, chills, nausea, respiratory failure, body aches, not being able to stand up on my own without falling and only drinking a smoothie a day, I was finally healthy enough to go home.
Never had I thought that I would be so sick that I couldn’t walk, but there I was. The days after leaving the hospital were rough. I still endured body aches and my lungs, although no longer filled with fluid, had shrunken down like California Raisins. It took me about a week before I could breathe normally again and talk without pausing between words. I was on disability from work for two weeks after I left the hospital.
It has now been three weeks since my experience and there are now about 83 reported cases of Typhus in Los Angeles County as of yesterday. 8 in Orange County, one of which I’m assuming is me.
I still don’t know where I got the virus from although I have some theories. It’s a bit unnerving to not know because it leaves you with a paranoia that you will get it again, which is entirely possible.
I’m back to 100% again and back to work. I feel grateful for being able to breathe, walk and sleep soundly. I had a lot of people praying and rooting for me to get better and it felt good to see all the well wishes while I was in the hospital. It’s always a scary thing to get sick, especially when it’s something rare and not often dealt with. But I survived and live to type another day.
Get your pets flea collars, people.