Typhoid fever is caused by Salmonella typhi bacteria. Typhoid fever is rare in industrialized countries. However, it remains a serious health threat in the developing world, especially for children.
Typhoid fever spreads through contaminated food and water or through close contact with someone who's infected. Signs and symptoms usually include high fever, headache, abdominal pain, and either constipation or diarrhea.
Most people with typhoid fever feel better within a few days of starting antibiotic treatment, although a small number of them may die of complications. Vaccines against typhoid fever are available, but they're only partially effective. Vaccines usually are reserved for those who may be exposed to the disease or are traveling to areas where typhoid fever is common.
Signs and symptoms are likely to develop gradually â often appearing one to three weeks after exposure to the disease.
Once signs and symptoms do appear, you're likely to experience:
If you don't receive treatment, you may:
In addition, life-threatening complications often develop at this time.
In some people, signs and symptoms may return up to two weeks after the fever has subsided.
See a doctor immediately if you suspect you have typhoid fever. If you become ill while traveling in a foreign country, call the U.S. Consulate for a list of doctors. Better yet, find out in advance about medical care in the areas you'll visit, and carry a list of the names, addresses and phone numbers of recommended doctors.
If you develop signs and symptoms after you return home, consider consulting a doctor who focuses on international travel medicine or infectious diseases. A specialist may be able to recognize and treat your illness more quickly than can a doctor who isn't familiar with these areas.
Typhoid fever is caused by virulent bacteria called Salmonella typhi (S. typhi). Although they're related, S. typhi and the bacteria responsible for salmonellosis, another serious intestinal infection, aren't the same.
The bacteria that cause typhoid fever spread through contaminated food or water and occasionally through direct contact with someone who is infected. In developing nations, where typhoid fever is endemic, most cases result from contaminated drinking water and poor sanitation. The majority of people in industrialized countries pick up typhoid bacteria while traveling and spread it to others through the fecal-oral route.
This means that S. typhi is passed in the feces and sometimes in the urine of infected people. You can contract the infection if you eat food handled by someone with typhoid fever who hasn't washed carefully after using the toilet. You can also become infected by drinking water contaminated with the bacteria.
Even after treatment with antibiotics, a small number of people who recover from typhoid fever continue to harbor the bacteria in their intestinal tracts or gallbladders, often for years. These people, called chronic carriers, shed the bacteria in their feces and are capable of infecting others, although they no longer have signs or symptoms of the disease themselves.
Your doctor is likely to suspect typhoid fever based on your symptoms and your medical and travel history. But the diagnosis is usually confirmed by identifying S. typhi in a culture of your blood or other body fluid or tissue.
For the culture, a small sample of your blood, stool, urine or bone marrow is placed on a special medium that encourages the growth of bacteria. The culture is checked under a microscope for the presence of typhoid bacteria. A bone marrow culture often is the most sensitive test for S. typhi.
Although performing a culture test is the mainstay for diagnosis, in some instances other testing may be used to confirm a suspected typhoid fever infection, such as a test to detect antibodies to typhoid bacteria in your blood or a test that checks for typhoid DNA in your blood.
The most serious complications of typhoid fever â intestinal bleeding or holes (perforations) in the intestine â may develop in the third week of illness. A perforated intestine occurs when your small intestine or large bowel develops a hole, causing intestinal contents to leak into your abdominal cavity and triggering signs and symptoms, such as severe abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and bloodstream infection (sepsis). This life-threatening complication requires immediate medical care.
Other possible complications include:
With prompt treatment, nearly all people in industrialized nations recover from typhoid fever. Without treatment, some people may not survive complications of the disease.
In many developing nations, the public health goals that can help prevent and control typhoid fever â safe drinking water, improved sanitation and adequate medical care â may be difficult to achieve. For that reason, some experts believe that vaccinating high-risk populations is the best way to control typhoid fever.
A vaccine is recommended if you're traveling to areas where the risk of getting typhoid fever is high.
Two vaccines are available.
Neither vaccine is 100 percent effective, and both require repeat immunizations, as vaccine effectiveness diminishes over time.
Because the vaccine won't provide complete protection, follow these guidelines when traveling to high-risk areas:
Avoid drinking untreated water. Contaminated drinking water is a particular problem in areas where typhoid fever is endemic. For that reason, drink only bottled water or canned or bottled carbonated beverages, wine and beer. Carbonated bottled water is safer than uncarbonated bottled water is.
Ask for drinks without ice. Use bottled water to brush your teeth, and try not to swallow water in the shower.
If you're recovering from typhoid fever, these measures can help keep others safe:
Typhoid fever remains a serious worldwide threat â especially in the developing world â affecting an estimated 26 million or more people each year. The disease is endemic in India, Southeast Asia, Africa, South America and many other areas.
Worldwide, children are at greatest risk of getting the disease, although they generally have milder symptoms than adults do.
If you live in a country where typhoid fever is rare, you're at increased risk if you: