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an infectious disease caused by the Salmonella typhimurium bacterium
One common among soldiers during wartime, and in all populated regions, typhoid fever is now relatively rare in areas with modern sanitation practices, but remains a serious health threat in the developing world, especially for children. Worldwide, typhoid fever affects more than 21 million people annually, with about 200,000 people dying from the disease.
Salmonella typhimurium lives and grows in human waste products, and is spread when people consume water or food that has been infected by contaminated waste. People who have been infected by the bacteria can pass it to others even if they show no symptoms, usually by failing to follow proper sanitation procedures (think "Typhoid Mary"). The bacteria can survive for weeks in water or dried sewage.
Symptoms begin one to two weeks after exposure, and it can take four or five weeks for the disease to run its full course. "Visible" symptoms include a fever that starts low and increases daily, possibly reaching as high as 104.9º F, headache, weakness and fatigue, muscle aches, loss of appetite, and abdominal pain. Some patients have constipation or diarrhea, and some have a rash. The rash consists of rose-colored spots, particularly on the neck and abdomen. Internally, the bacteria cause intestinal ulcers which can in severe cases become infected and allow the bacteria to get into the blood stream. Untreated, typhoid kills around 25 percent of infected individuals. If treatment is given, less than 4 in 100 cases are fatal.
The only way to conclusively diagnose typhoid is to look for the bacteria in the patient's blood, stool, urine, or bone marrow. While antibiotics may be used to lessen the severity and duration of the disease, most treatment consists of fever management and fluid replacement.
Vaccines against typhoid fever are available, but they're only partially effective. Strict adherence to sanitation standards and personal hygiene are by far the most effective means of preventing typhoid outbreaks.
This page was last updated on 03/18/2017.