Typhoid fever is a bacterial infection that is rare in the United States. However, it is not rare in many other countries. Major symptoms may include unusually high fever, headache, loss of appetite, fatigue, abdominal pain and diarrhea.
Typhoid is an intestinal infection caused by the bacterium Salmonella typhi. Antibodies to the bacteria can be detected in the blood (Widal’s test). Salmonella typhi can be cultured from the patient’s blood, urine and feces as well. The infection incubates for one or two weeks. A gradual development of headache, loss of appetite, fatigue and constipation occurs. During the following weeks there is a gradual rise in temperature to about 104 F, abdominal pain, a slowed pulse rate, nosebleeds, rose-colored spots on the chest and diarrhea. Intestinal ulceration and bleeding can lead to anemia and peritonitis. These conditions may be fatal if the patient is left untreated. Heart failure may also occur.
Even after a complete recovery from Typhoid fever the patient may remain a carrier of the bacteria for a number of weeks, months or even years. Those who have had Typhoid should be very careful of personal hygiene and avoid handling food that other people eat until the bacteria is no longer present in the patient’s feces.
Typhoid is caused by the bacterium Salmonella Typhi. It is the most serious of the Salmonella infections. Contaminated food or water is most often the source of a Typhoid outbreak. Contact with a carrier of the bacterium, polluted water, infected food or milk, shellfish harvested from polluted water, or fresh vegetables grown in contaminated soil are all sources of the Salmonella Typhi bacterium. People who have had Typhoid are “carriers” until the bacteria is completely gone from their body. If they touch food served to other people when their hands are not properly washed, they can spread Typhoid to those who eat the food.
Typhoid affects males and females in equal numbers. In the United States there are only about 500 cases of typhoid diagnosed each year, and over 62% of these are contracted in other countries. The major sources of cases in the United States between the years 1975-1984 were Mexico (39%) and India (14%). In Mexico, Latin America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East where the fatality rate is as high as 10% each year, typhoid is still a serious health problem. In the U.S., outbreaks are usually traced to a typhoid carrier in the food handling business (e.g. restaurants, hotels, etc.).
Centers for Disease Control (CDC) researchers investigated cases of typhoid fever diagnosed in the U.S. from June 1996 through May 1997. They found that, of the 282 cases for which complete clinical information exists, 81 percent involved foreign travel. (Typically, those who became ill were foreign visitors to the U.S. or foreign-born U.S. residents who had traveled recently to their native countries.) The part of the world most often implicated in this study was the Indian subcontinent. Half of the patients were younger than 21.
Typhoid is treated with the antibiotic drugs chloramphenicol, ampicillin, cefoperazone, pefloxacin, co-trimoxazole or trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole. Precautions to take, especially when visiting countries with unsanitary conditions, includes the practice of good personal hygiene and careful washing of hands. Avoid drinking untreated water, drinks served with ice, unpeeled fruits and vegetables, and other food that is cooked and not served hot. In food preparation; wash and sanitize utensils in hot water; carefully clean cutting boards, work areas and equipment; keep hot foods at 165 F and cold foods at 40 F or colder to avoid the possible growth of bacteria in food. Typhoid vaccination and food precautions are necessary before traveling to developing countries where this kind of disease is prevalent.
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