Typhoid fever: Everything you need to know about this contagious disease

Typhoid fever: Everything you need to know about this contagious disease

Keep reading for all the important facts about typhoid fever and how it is linked to dirty water.

What is typhoid fever?

Typhoid fever is a contagious and serious bacterial infection caused by the Salmonella typhi bacterium. If not treated, typhoid can be life threatening.

A less severe form of typhoid can be caused by a related bacteria called Salmonella paratyphi.

typhoid fever

The Salmonella typhi bacteria that causes typhoid fever can be found in contaminated water.

Although typhoid is rare in countries with improved sanitation, it is still found in countries like Egypt, India, Pakistan, Africa, Mexico and some other South American countries.

In fact, a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that an estimated 22 million cases of typhoid fever and 22,000 deaths resulting from typhoid are reported annually. In addition to this, 6 million cases of paratyphoid are reported every year.

How is typhoid transmitted?

Humans are the only transmitters of this disease. Animals are not known to be carriers of typhoid.

The feces of a person infected with typhoid carry a high concentration of the Salmonella typhi bacteria. Sometimes the urine of an infected person can also carry the bacteria.

typhoid fever

Be cautious when travelling to countries listed as high-risk in terms on typhoid.

Typhoid fever is transmitted when people consume food and water contaminated with the feces of an infected person. This is mostly prevalent in countries with poor sanitation and a high level of contaminated drinking water.

When people from developed or industrialized countries travel to high risk countries, they could contract this illness.

Typhoid can also be spread through close contact with an infected person.

Signs and symptoms of typhoid fever

Children who have typhoid fever can develop symptoms quite suddenly. Usually though, typhoid develops gradually.

Initial symptoms are tiredness, general body aches, stomach pain, appetite loss, headache, fever as high as 39.5° to 40°C, and vomiting. Some patients may have a dry cough.

When to see a doctor

It is best to see a doctor as soon as the above symptoms are noticed, especially if you have recently travelled to another country.

If you develop these symptoms when on holiday in a foreign country, go to a hospital where you can consult a general practitioner – better still, a specialist.

Incubation/ infectious period

Once a person is infected, the time taken for the disease to manifest,  also known as the incubation period, is about 6-30 days.

typhoid fever

Tiredness and high fever are also early symptoms of typhoid fever.

If not treated the disease could last for a month. In some cases, complications such as ruptures in the intestines arise around the 2nd or 3rd week.

If treatment is started early the patient could expect to recover within 10 days.


If you have early symptoms of typhoid fever, it is best to see your doctor immediately. Your doctor will check your symptoms and, if necessary, request a blood, stool, urine or bone marrow test to identify the presence of the Salmonella typhi bacteria.

During your checkup, remember to let your doctor know if and where you have travelled.

typhoid fever

Your doctor may request a blood sample to check for the Salmonella typhi bacteria.

Once typhoid is confirmed, antibiotics to kill the Salmonella bacteria will be prescribed. The use of antibiotics to treat typhoid has drastically reduced the mortality rate from the disease.

Originally the antibiotic chloramphenicol was used for the treatment of typhoid. However, doctors have since discontinued its use due to its side effects, the possibility of relapse, and because the salmonella bacteria became resistant to it.

typhoid fever

Your doctor may examine you and check your symptoms before prescribing antibiotics.

In addition to chloramphenicol, typhoid has also proved to be resistant to the antibiotics ampicillin and trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole.

How to keep typhoid fever from spreading

When traveling to a high-risk country, follow these tips:

– Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water frequently. Follow this rule, especially after using the toilet, and before preparing and eating meals.

– Do not drink tap water. Instead, drink bottled water or boil water in a clean kettle before drinking.

typhoid fever

It is best to drink bottled water when travelling, especially in countries where typhoid fever is still a threat.

– Do not eat undercooked meats or seafood.

– Try not to consume raw fruits and vegetables unless you peel and clean them yourself. Be very careful about eating food bought from roadside vendors and food courts.

– If eating out, opt for food that is hot, not cold or room temperature.

– If you are diagnosed with typhoid fever, limit contact with others, separate your belongings, sanitize the things you use and do not prepare food for others.

Prevention tips

If you plan on travelling to a high risk country, speak to your doctor about getting vaccinated. Keep in mind though that the vaccination doesn’t give you 100% protection from typhoid fever.

typhoid fever

Avoid eating raw vegetables and cut fruits from roadside vendors.


References: CDC, WebMD, Mayo Clinic

Also read: 5 Summer diseases you should look out for

Republished with permission from theAsianParent Singapore

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Minoli Almeida

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