What is typhoid fever? What is the history of typhoid fever?
Typhoid fever is an acute illness associated with fever that is most often caused by the Salmonella typhi bacteria. It can also be caused by Salmonella paratyphi, a related bacterium that usually leads to a less severe illness. The bacteria are deposited through fecal contamination in water or food by a human carrier and are then spread to other people in the area. Typhoid fever is rare in industrial countries but continues to be a significant public-health issue in developing countries.
The incidence of typhoid fever in the United States has decreased since the early 1900s. Today, approximately 5,700 cases are reported annually in the United States, mostly in people who recently have traveled to endemic areas. This is in comparison to the 1920s, when over 35,000 cases were reported in the U.S. This improvement is the result of improved environmental sanitation. Mexico and South America are the most common areas for U.S. citizens to contract typhoid fever. India, Pakistan, and Egypt are also known high-risk areas for developing this disease. Worldwide, typhoid fever affects more than 21 million people annually, with over 200,000 patients dying of the disease.
If traveling to endemic areas, you should consult with your health-care professional and discuss if you should receive vaccination for typhoid fever.
How do patients get typhoid fever?
Typhoid fever is contracted by the ingestion of the bacteria in contaminated food or water. Patients with acute illness can contaminate the surrounding water supply through stool, which contains a high concentration of the bacteria. Contamination of the water supply can, in turn, taint the food supply. About 3%-5% of patients become carriers of the bacteria after the acute illness. Some patients suffer a very mild illness that goes unrecognized. These patients can become long-term carriers of the bacteria. The bacteria multiply in the gallbladder, bile ducts, or liver and pass into the bowel. The bacteria can survive for weeks in water or dried sewage. These chronic carriers may have no symptoms and can be the source of new outbreaks of typhoid fever for many years.