The Return Of Medieval Diseases In Urban Areas

Although it might have been thought to be impossible just a few years ago, there has been a spike in the number of confirmed cases of many diseases considered medieval by the population at large today. The outbreaks have been confirmed in large urban cities such as Los Angeles, Seattle, and New York City.

The majority of confirmed outbreaks of these medieval diseases, such as tuberculosis and typhus, have been in members of the large homeless encampments that are found in many different clusters around these urban cities. The few remaining cases in the outbreaks confirmed by the CDC have been seen in the law enforcement and medical employees that had direct contact with the members of the homeless tent cities.

In 2018, an estimated 553,000 people in the US were homeless. Of that 553,000, almost one-quarter of that homeless population was thought to be located in California, most of that around the metro LA area. There have been confirmed outbreaks of typhus, hepatitis A, B, and C, tuberculosis, and staph/MRCA in LA county alone in 2019. The outbreaks were nearly all comprised of homeless individuals residing in the tent cities erected around LA.

With 60% of the incoming calls to law enforcement in LA County being a report of a homeless person being a threat or a nuisance, the members of law enforcement that have contact with these homeless communities work diligently to protect themselves from contracting and further spreading these diseases. However, with antibiotic-resistant strains of these infections and diseases popping up, it seems as though even the personal protective equipment may not be enough.

In King County, for example, confirmed cases of typhus were found in 2019. Typhus is spread by infected fleas and rats infesting these homeless encampments and spreading it to humans. Another very similar disease is hantavirus, or HPS, which is fatal to 39% of those it infects. Hantavirus is spread by breathing in rodent excrement, and it is mainly a concern to the human lung once infected.

While in King County tearing down homeless encampments, health care workers were confirmed to have contracted shigella bacteria. This is spread by contact with feces. Hepatitis A, another common ailment among the homeless communities, is also spread by contact with human feces.

Hepatitis A and tuberculosis were considered medieval diseases, wiped out by the improvement in personal hygiene and better waste removal practices such as indoor plumbing. However, with the lack of hygiene and plumbing in the homeless camps, hepatitis and shigella have been found in disturbingly large numbers in both LA and Seattle homeless communities, the CDC has confirmed.

Although both hepatitis and tuberculosis are preventable and treatable diseases, they have not only come back from the brink of eradication, but they seem to be making new rounds every year among the homeless. In addition to the fecal born bacteria, the flea born diseases carried through the homeless camps by rats have been compared to the plague in their devastating effects if allowed to spread among the urban communities that they are being found in.