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Typhus Outbreak At City Hall Had Attorney Believing 'I Was Going To Die'

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) --  A typhus outbreak in downtown Los Angeles has officials considering a plan to remove the carpets at City Hall.

Noting that typhus is typically spread by fleas that have been infected by rats, cats and opossums, City Council President Herb Wesson said he wants city staff to report on the scope of vermin and pest control issues within the Civic Center complex, according to a newly filed motion.

Carpets have already been removed in Wesson's office.

Health officials in October announced there was a typhus outbreak in Los Angeles County.

The outbreak reportedly included the downtown area that includes Skid Row, where an estimated 2,000 homeless people stay.

Flea-borne typhus can cause high fever, chills, headache and rashes in humans. Typhus is treated with antibiotics. The disease can spread in areas where there is an accumulation of trash, but is not transmitted person-to- person, according to the California Department of Public Health.

KCAL9's Sara Donchey spoke to a city attorney who contracted typhus this past November and she had a case that was worse than just a headache and chills.

"It was terrifying," said Elizabeth Greenwood, "I thought I was going to die and couldn't figure out what was wrong with me."

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The Xenopsylla cheopis, the Oriental rat flea, which can carry typhus fever. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Greenwood never thought showing up for work at City Hall could leave her fighting for her life.

"I couldn't move my head," she said. "I was practically screaming."

The problems in her office building – rats, trash, a homeless encampment just outside – are well-known. Greenwood also believes they led her to getting typhus. She was diagnosed with the disease this past November.

"I had the worst headache I've ever had in my life. I couldn't move my head. I lost my equilibrium. I had a 102 degree fever," Greenwood says.

Wesson says his staff jumped into action by ripping out all the carpet and calling pest control.

"Our paramount concern is for the safety of our staff and all of the visitors that we get in Los Angeles," he said.

A city spokesperson told Donchey that they have been treating for pests and picking up trash more often in and around City Hall.

Greenwood doesn't think that's enough and she wants answers.

"It is terrifying to me that there could be this kind of health risk out there and the city attorney's office didn't even tell anybody," she says, "I'm terrified of going back to work there because I don't ever want to get that sick again," says Greenwood.

She wants the entire building to be treated and she also wants people -- staffers and visitors -- to be explicitly warned about the possibilities of becoming sick.

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