The full scope of the flea and rodent problem inside City Hall is still unclear amid a downtown outbreak of flea-borne typhus, but experts should have an accurate picture by next week, the Los Angeles City Council was told Friday.
Staff from the General Services Department, the Personnel Department and others gave updates to the council on actions taken since last Friday, when the council approved a motion seeking options on combating the problem of rodents and fleas in the building, which may include removing all of the carpets.
Department representatives told the council a vendor is still in the process of inspecting every floor of City Hall and City Hall East as it prepares a full report to identify where the flea and rodent problems are. Staff also said cleanup efforts around the exterior of the building have increased and work is being done to identify rodent entry points and have them sealed.
"I want to make it crystal clear that this council truly believes that when individuals come to work for the city of Los Angeles that the only thing they should be concerned about is getting here on time," City Council President Herb Wesson said last week. "They should not be concerned about coming to work and finding themselves in an unsafe or unhealthy environment."
The motion, which Wesson introduced, says there has been a "noticeable increase in the volume of rodents in the area and within city buildings," and also referenced a recent report by NBC4 on a City Hall East employee who is convinced she caught typhus last November from fleas in her office.
The motion says that Wesson's office became aware of vermin issues within his personal City Hall office that month and brought in pest control experts who set traps, advised the removal of all live plants the rodents were consuming, and recommended the removal or containment of all food products.
The motion says that within two weeks, Wesson's office was also experiencing fleas in the carpets, so he had them removed.
"Since the work has been completed, our employees have not reported any new rodent or flea issues within the office," the motion states.
The motion instructed city staff to report back with a cost estimate and plan to remove all carpets in City Hall and City Hall East, and to report back with an assessment of all live plants in any city building, city-owned facility and city-operated facility within downtown, including which varieties are most attractive to vermin.
According to Wesson's motion and a member of the Personnel Department, the current demolition of the Los Angeles Police Department's former Parker Center headquarters building, which has been mostly vacant since 2013 and is across the street from City Hall East, may be partly responsible for the rodents in the Civic Center area.
Typhus is not transmitted person-to-person, and flea-borne typhus can spread to people from infected fleas and their feces. Typhus infection can be prevented through flea control measures on pets, using insect repellent to avoid flea bites, and clearing areas that can attract wild or stray animals like cats, rats and opossums, according to the Department of Public Health.
Symptoms of typhus include high fever, chills, headache, muscle aches and rash and can be treated with antibiotics.
Health officials in October announced there was a typhus outbreak in Los Angeles County, including in the downtown area of Skid Row, where an estimated 2,000 homeless people sleep.
From 2013-2017, the average number of reported cases in the county of flea-borne typhus doubled to nearly 60 cases per year, and from 2018 to last week, there were a total of 107 documented cases of flea-borne typhus, the Department of Public Health reported.
Since October, a total of 19 cases have been documented in downtown Los Angeles, with eight out of the 19 involving people experiencing homelessness, the department said.