The Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department is investigating about a dozen cases of possible typhus infection, most of them reported in Central Austin.
The type of typhus found in Texas, murine typhus, is most commonly caused by rats and their fleas, but opossums and cats can also be involved in transmitting the disease, according to the Department of State Health Services Web site. People get it from an infected flea.
Carole Barasch, a spokeswoman for the local agency, said the department is working with the Department of State Health Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to investigate the outbreak.
"It is unusual," she said. "From 1997 to 2006 there were no reports of typhus (in Travis County)." She said she did not know how many were reported last year.
This particular strain of typhus is believed to be deadlier than other strains commonly found in South Texas.
"What the CDC told me is that the strain we're getting here is so much more lethal than what they've been seeing at the border," said Linda Komm, whose son and husband both were diagnosed with typhus. "At the border, people have been getting it and (are) able to (tough) it out, but here, everyone that's been getting it has been going to the hospital."