By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Typhoid fever is an infection caused by a strain of bacteria called Salmonella typhii, which is related to the bacteria that causes salmonella food poisoning. The infection can affect the whole body and damage multiple organs. Unless treated, this infection can have life threatening consequences.
Symptoms of typhoid fever
Typhoid is very contagious and is easily spread through contaminated food or water. An infected individual usually passes the bacteria to the outside environment via the feces and more rarely, via the urine. Typhoid fever is common in parts of the world where levels of sanitation and hygiene are poor and there is a higher risk of ingesting contaminated drinking water.
An estimated 16 to 33 million cases occur worldwide each year leading to approximately 216,000 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. Children and younger adults between the ages of 5 and 19 years are at the greatest risk of infection.
Some of the symptoms of this condition include:
- Fever that usually reaches 39-40°C (103-104°F)
- Headache and muscle pain
- Abdominal bloating and pain
- Vomiting, constipation or diarrhea
Treatment of typhoid fever
Typhoid is diagnosed using laboratory tests, one of which is the Widal test. The test may not always be positive despite the presence of the infection as the test has a poor sensitivity and specificity, missing approximately 30% of positive infections.
More reliable and also faster tests include the IDL Tubex test which can detect antibodies against the infection within minutes and the Typhidot test, which takes three hours to detect the bacteria in serum.
If typhoid fever is detected early, it can usually be treated quickly with a course of oral antibiotics. However, serious, more advanced cases may need to be treated with intravenous antibiotics in a hospital setting.
Typhoid fever can be prevented by maintaining good hygiene and sanitation and ensuring the provision of clean drinking water. In addition, two vaccines are available against typhoid and these are recommended for people travelling to parts of the world where the infection is widespread.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc
Last Updated: Jan 16, 2014