What is typhoid fever?

Typhoid fever is an infectious disease that’s caused by a species of bacteria called Salmonella typhi. It infects the intestinal tract and can sometimes spread into the bloodstream.

Symptoms of typhoid fever include:

  • high fever
  • stomach pain
  • weakness
  • headache

Some people might also develop a rash and experience diarrhea or constipation.

While it’s rare in industrialized countries, it still affects people around the world. Typhoid fever is also extremely contagious. Read on to learn more about how it’s spread and how you can protect yourself and others.

The S. typhi bacterium lives only in humans and is spread through contaminated food and water. As a result, typhoid fever is more common in areas that don’t have adequate sanitation systems.

People with typhoid fever can pass S. typhi bacteria in their stool and urine. Additionally, some people can carry the bacteria in their gallbladder and shed it in their stool for at least a year. These people are called chronic carriers and some have no clinical history of disease.

You can get typhoid fever by eating food or drinking water that’s contaminated with feces. This often happens due to someone not washing their hands after going to the bathroom. You can also get typhoid fever through close contact with someone who has it.

While anyone exposed to S. typhi bacteria can develop typhoid fever, certain things can increase your risk.

One of the biggest risk factors is living in or traveling to areas where typhoid fever is common, such as:

  • Africa
  • South and Central America
  • South and Southeast Asia
  • the Middle East
  • parts of Europe

In addition, children are more vulnerable to typhoid fever. However, their symptoms are usually less severe than those in adults.

Typhoid fever requires antibiotics to kill off S. typhi bacteria. When caught early, it usually clears up with a 10- to 14-day course of antibiotics, often ciprofloxacin or cefixime. More severe cases may require intravenous antibiotics that are administered in a hospital. While there, you might also be given corticosteroids and intravenous fluids.

It’s very important to seek treatment if you have typhoid fever or think you might have it. Without treatment, one in five people with typhoid fever may die from complications.

You can reduce your risk of getting typhoid fever by getting vaccinated. If you plan on traveling to any high-risk areas, plan on getting the typhoid fever vaccine beforehand.

There are two types of typhoid fever vaccines:

  • an injected vaccine administered one week before travel
  • an oral vaccine administered in four capsules that are taken every other day

The vaccine loses effectiveness over time, so you should check with your doctor about getting a booster vaccination if needed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting a booster shot every 2 years for the injection and every 5 years for the oral vaccine.

It’s important to keep in mind that the estimated effectiveness of the typhoid vaccination is around 80 percent. This means that it’s important to still be mindful about reducing your risk, especially if you’re traveling to a high-risk area and aren’t familiar with the language or cuisine.

When it comes to food, follow these tips:

  • Eat foods that are completely cooked and served warm.
  • Avoid unpasteurized dairy products.
  • Avoid raw, undercooked, or room-temperature food that’s been cooked.
  • Wash and peel fruits and vegetables.
  • Drink water from a sealed bottle or boil your water.
  • Don’t put ice in your drinks.

Other tips for prevention include:

  • Wash your hand often, especially after using the bathroom and before eating.
  • Avoid touching your mouth or nose.
  • Carry hand sanitizer with you at all times in case soap and water aren’t available.
  • Avoid close contact with people who have symptoms of typhoid fever.
  • Avoid infecting others if you’re feeling sick.

Finally, if you do end up getting typhoid fever, follow these steps to avoid spreading it to others:

  • Take the antibiotics as prescribed by your doctor. Be sure to finish the entire course of antibiotics, even if you begin to feel better.
  • Avoid handling food until your doctor says that you’re no longer shedding S. typhi bacteria.
  • Wash your hands often, especially after using the bathroom and before cooking or handling things that belong to others.

Typhoid fever is a highly contagious disease that’s mostly spread through fecal contamination of food and water. When caught early, the disease can be treated with a course of antibiotics. However, if it’s left untreated, the disease can become severe and even fatal.

If you’re traveling to an area where typhoid fever is prevalent, you should plan to get the typhoid fever vaccine and take extra care when it comes to eating and drinking. Practicing good hygiene can also help to prevent the spread of typhoid fever.