What Is Typhus? Causes, Symptoms, Treatment And Prevention


Typhus has been in existence since the very early of times. It has been acknowledged as one of the most devastating diseases throughout history, especially during the wartimes. The outbreak of typhus was initially recorded in 1489, during the Spanish army siege of Granada. It was during the early 20th century, Charles Nicolle, a French bacteriologist noticed the possible impact of a hot water shower on the typhus affected population.

Currently, typhus is recorded in specific parts of the world, such as Eastern Africa, Asia, and certain areas in Central and South America. Even to this day, there have been no known vaccines available for the prevention and cure of typhus other than improved hygienic practices, use of antibiotics and effective insecticides. But, studies have revealed a prominent contraction in the occurrence of typhus in the current times.

Typhus is a bacterial disease caused by Rickettsia bacteria. The bacterial disease or infection is spread by fleas, lice or mites. Also known as typhus fever, typhus is a cluster of infectious diseases which include, epidemic typhus, murine typhus, and scrub typhus.

The infection is spread through the arthropods, that is, invertebrate animals such as mites, lice, or ticks transmit the bacteria through biting. The insect bite can leave a mark on the body, which can further open the skin if scratched. Once the bacteria come in contact with the open skin, it will gain access to the bloodstream; continuing to reproduce and grow.

Usually, you can catch typhus in the event of an insect bite. It is not transmitted from one person to the other like flu or the common cold. Infected lice, fleas or mites that are found on small animals such as rats, squirrels, and cats are the vehicles of the bacterial infection.

In addition to that, the insects become the carriers of the infection when it feeds on the blood of an infected rodent or an infected person. One of the most common ways through which you can contract typhus is by coming in contact with bed sheets infested with the bacterium carrying arthropods.

Likewise, the infection can spread through the excreta of the arthropods. If you scratch the bitten area where the mice or lice have been feeding on, the bacteria in the excreta will enter the bloodstream through the minute wounds contrived through scratching.

The chances of incurring typhus are high in overcrowded places such as travel hostels, places with a lot of bushes, and unhygienic public washrooms.

There are three different types of typhus. Each type of typhus is caused by a specific type of bacterium, and are suffused through different types of arthropods.

You can get infected with scrub typhus in disparate ways such as sleeping on a sheet infested with mites , through small openings in your skin (wounds) and also the faeces of the mites.

The three types of typhus have slightly variant symptoms, but there are few that are common to all the three types , such as

Apart from this, each of the typhus has its own symptoms. The symptoms of epidemic typhus appear suddenly and the major symptoms include

The symptoms of endemic typhus last between 10 to 12 days. Even though the symptoms are closely similar to that of epidemic typhus , it is less severe in comparison. It includes

The symptoms of scrub typhus begin to show within the first ten days of being bitten. A bit more extreme than the other two types, scrub typhus can be fatal for people suffering from any sort of severe illness as it can result in bleeding and organ failure. The symptoms include

In case you suspect the development of typhus in you, the doctor will be needing a detailed description of the symptoms and a physical examination. Providing your medical history is important as it will help the doctor to analyse your condition on an easier note.

It is preferable to inform your doctor about your living condition that is if you are residing in a crowded setting, if there are any typhus outbreaks in your locality or if you have travelled recently. The diagnosis of typhus is a bit tricky and difficult as it possesses the similar symptoms as malaria, brucellosis and dengue.

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The most common tests applied for the diagnosis of typhus include

Although there is no specific treatment for typhus, antibiotics are being used currently. Sooner the application, better the effectiveness. The application varies according to the individuals affected.

Consequently, there are no specific ways to prevent the outbreak and occurrence of typhus. Even though a vaccine for epidemic typhus was developed during the World War II, the declining number of typhus cases resulted in ceasing the manufacturing of the vaccine. As there are no specific medicines for the bacterial disease , you can adopt the following measures to prevent and avoid the development of typhus.

Before the 20th century, there have been reports of death from typhus especially epidemic typhus. In the current era, as people are becoming increasingly aware of the need to maintain hygiene, less and less number of deaths have been reported. Endemic typhus is rarely deadly, even if the affected person is not subjected to any treatment.

A high number of deaths have been reported amongst the older adults and malnourished people, due to the lack of a strong immune system. In the case of epidemic typhus, there has been a reported mortality rate of 10 to 60% and 30% in scrub typhus; in the event of lack of treatment. Children diagnosed with typhus mostly recover. Only a reported 4% of deaths have been reported in the case of endemic typhus.

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