Typhoid fever can be spread by consuming food or water contaminated with the stool or urine of an infected person.
People have flu-like symptoms, sometimes followed by delirium, cough, exhaustion, occasionally rash, and diarrhea.
Samples of blood, stool, other body fluids, or tissues are sent to a laboratory to grow (culture) the bacteria.
To prevent infection, people traveling to areas where typhoid fever is common should be vaccinated and, when there, should avoid certain foods and not drink unbottled water.
Infected people with or without symptoms are treated with antibiotics.
(See also Overview of Bacteria Overview of Bacteria Bacteria are microscopic, single-celled organisms. They are among the earliest known life forms on earth. There are thousands of different kinds of bacteria, and they live in every conceivable... read more and Salmonella Infections Salmonella Infections The gram-negative bacteria Salmonella typically cause diarrhea and sometimes cause a more serious infection, typhoid fever. People are usually infected when they eat contaminated food... read more .)
Typhoid fever is one type of infection caused by Salmonella bacteria. There are many types of Salmonella, but most typhoid fever is caused by Salmonella Typhi.
Typhoid fever is common in areas where sanitary conditions are poor. Most cases in the United States are acquired while traveling in countries where the infection is common.
Did You Know...
Salmonella Typhi is present only in people.
People who are infected excrete the bacteria in stool and, rarely, in urine. A few infected people develop chronic infection of the gallbladder or urinary tract. They continue to excrete the bacteria in stool or urine, even though they no longer have any symptoms. Such people are called carriers. Thus, they do not know they can spread the infection. During the early 20th century, one such woman, a cook named Mary Mallon, spread typhoid fever to many people and became known as Typhoid Mary.
Salmonella Typhi bacteria may contaminate food or drink when hands are inadequately washed after defecation or urination. Water supplies may be contaminated when sewage is inadequately treated. Flies may spread the bacteria directly from stool to food.
Occasionally, typhoid fever is spread by direct contact among children during play or between adults during anal-oral sex.
Like all Salmonella bacteria, many of these bacteria must be consumed for infection to develop, unless the immune system is impaired or people have a deficiency of stomach acid. Stomach acid tends to destroy Salmonella bacteria.
Spread through the bloodstream
The bacteria spread from the digestive tract to the bloodstream (causing bacteremia Bacteremia Bacteremia is the presence of bacteria in the bloodstream. Bacteremia may result from ordinary activities (such as vigorous toothbrushing), dental or medical procedures, or from infections ... read more ) and may infect distant organs such as the following:
Liver, spleen, and gallbladder
The tissues covering the brain and spinal cord (causing meningitis Acute Bacterial Meningitis Acute bacterial meningitis is rapidly developing inflammation of the layers of tissue that cover the brain and spinal cord (meninges) and of the fluid-filled space between the meninges (subarachnoid... read more )
These infections develop mainly when people are not treated or when treatment is delayed.
Symptoms of Typhoid Fever
Typically, a flu-like illness begins about 8 to 14 days after infection. Typhoid fever symptoms begin gradually. People may have a fever, headache, sore throat, muscle and joint pains, abdominal pains, and a dry cough. They may lose their appetite.
After a few days, the temperature peaks at about 103 to 104° F (39 to 40° C), remains high for another 10 to 14 days, and returns to normal during the fourth week after symptoms started. Often the heartbeat is slow, and people feel exhausted. When the infection is severe, they may become delirious.
During the second week, a rash of flat, rose-colored spots develops on the chest and abdomen in about 10 to 20% of people.
People may be constipated at first, but after 2 weeks, diarrhea may occur. In about 1 to 2% of people, the intestine is torn (perforated) or bleeds. A few people have severe, sometimes life-threatening bleeding.
If infection spreads to other organs, symptoms of those infections may also develop.
In about 8 to 10% of untreated people, symptoms return about 2 weeks after the fever goes away.
Diagnosis of Typhoid Fever
Examination and culture of samples of blood, stool, or other body fluids or tissues
To confirm the diagnosis of typhoid fever, doctors take samples of blood, stool, urine, other body fluids, or tissues and send them to a laboratory where the bacteria, if present, can be grown (cultured). The samples are examined and tested to determine whether Salmonella bacteria are present.
Tests to determine which antibiotics are likely to be effective ( susceptibility tests Testing of a Microorganism's Susceptibility and Sensitivity to Antimicrobial Drugs Infectious diseases are caused by microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. Doctors suspect an infection based on the person's symptoms, physical examination results,... read more ) are also done.
Prognosis for Typhoid Fever
Without treatment, about 12% of people die. With treatment, only about 1% of people die. Most people who die are malnourished, very young, or very old.
Stupor (unresponsiveness that requires vigorous stimulation to be aroused), coma, and shock are signs of severe infection and a poor prognosis.
Prevention of Typhoid Fever
People who travel to areas where typhoid fever is common should avoid eating raw vegetables and other foods served or stored at room temperature.
Generally, people can safely consume the following:
Foods that are served very hot immediately after cooking
Bottled or canned beverages that are sealed
Hot tea or coffee
Fruit that they have peeled themselves
People should assume that ice and water (unless it is boiled or chlorinated before use) are unsafe. Sealed bottled water should be used for brushing teeth.
A vaccine given by mouth (orally) and a polysaccharide vaccine given by injection into a muscle can help prevent typhoid fever. Both vaccines are about 70% effective and have few side effects.
Vaccination is recommended for
Travelers to regions where typhoid fever is common
People who live in a household with or who have close contact with carriers
Laboratory workers who work with the bacteria
People who remain at risk should receive a booster vaccine 2 years after receiving the injected vaccine and 5 years after receiving the oral vaccine.
In the United States, most cases of typhoid fever occur in travelers returning from parts of the world where typhoid fever is common. Most of these cases could have been prevented if people had been vaccinated.
Treatment of Typhoid Fever
For severe infections, corticosteroids
When antibiotics are used, the risk of death is reduced to less than 1%. Complete recovery may take weeks or months.
The preferred antibiotics include
Ceftriaxone given by injection
Fluoroquinolones (such as ciprofloxacin, levofloxacin, or moxifloxacin) given by mouth or injection
Azithromycin given by mouth
Resistance to antibiotics is common and is increasing in areas where typhoid fever is common. Resistance is also increasing in the United States because of returning travelers who were infected in those areas.
The antibiotic chloramphenicol is used worldwide. However, it can damage cells in bone marrow that make blood cells. Also, Salmonella Typhi bacteria are becoming increasingly resistant to it.
If the infection is severe, corticosteroids are also given, particularly when people are delirious, comatose, or in shock.
While people have a fever, bed rest is advised. A clear liquid diet can help minimize diarrhea. People should not use aspirin, laxatives, or enemas.
Relapses can occur after treatment is stopped. This infection is milder than the initial illness and is treated the same way.
Treatment of carriers
Carriers must report to the local health department and are prohibited from working with food until tests show that the bacteria have been eradicated. Taking antibiotics for 4 to 6 weeks may eradicate the bacteria in many carriers.
If carriers have gallbladder disease, surgery to remove the gallbladder may be effective. However, such surgery does not guarantee that the bacteria are eradicated.
The following English-language resource may be useful. Please note that THE MANUAL is not responsible for the content of this resource.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Typhoid Fever: A resource providing information about typhoid fever, including information for travelers