Typhoid Fever

Typhoid fever is a life-threatening illness caused by the bacterium Salmonella Typhi.  In the United States about 400 cases occur each year, and 75% of these are acquired while traveling internationally.  Typhoid fever is still common in the developing world, where it affects about 21.5 million persons each year.

Typhoid fever can be prevented and can usually be treated with antibiotics. 

Salmonella Typhi lives only in humans.  Persons with typhoid fever carry the bacteria in their bloodstream and intestinal tract.  In addition, a small number of persons, called carriers, recover from typhoid fever but continue to carry the bacteria.  Both ill persons and carriers shed S. Typhi in their stool.

You can get typhoid fever if you eat food or drink beverates that have been handled by a person who is shedding S. Typhi or if sewage contaminated with S. Typhi bacteria gets into the water you use for drinking or washing food.  Therefore, thyphoid fever is more common in areas of the world where handwashing is less frequent and water is likely to be contaminated with sewage.

Only S. Typhi bacteria are eaten or drunk, they multiply and spread into the bloodstream.  The body reacts with fever and other signs and symptoms.

Typhoid fever is common in most parts of the world except in industrialized regions such as the United States, Canada, western Europe, Australia, and Japan.  Therefore, if you are traveling to the developing world, you should consider taking precautions.  Over the past 10 years, travelers from the United States to Asia, Africa, and Latin America have been especially at risk.

Two basic actions can protect you from typhoid fever:

  • Avoid risky foods and drinks
  • Get vaccinated against typhoid fever.

Watching what you eat and drink when you travel is as important as being vaccinated.  This is because the vaccines are not completely effective. Avoiding risky foods will also help protect you from other illnesses, including travelers’ diarrhea, cholera, dysentery, and hepatitis A.

Even if your symptoms seem to go away, you may still be carrying S. Typhi. If so, the illness could return, or you could pass the disease to other people.  In fact, if you work at a job where you handle food or care for small children, you may be barred legally from going back to work until a doctor has determined that you no longer carry any typhoid bacteria.

Treatment consists of taking the prescribed antibiotics for as long as the doctor has asked you to take them.  Wash your hands carefully with soap and water after using the bathroom, and do not prepare or serve food to other people.  Have your doctor perform a series of stool cultures to ensure that no S. Typhi bacteria remain in your body.

Reference: www.cdc.gov

For the most current updates about typhoid fever visit: www.nc.cdc.gov/travel/content/diseases.aspx#typhoid

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