Typhoid fever is a bacterial infection that occurs in human beings, affecting people of almost all age groups. It is called so because its neurological and behavioral symptoms resemble the symptoms of the typhus infection (caused by a different microbe). It is also known by other names like pythogenic fever and nervous fever.
What Causes Typhoid Fever?
The Salmonella Typhi bacteria is the primary cause of typhoid fever. A variant of typhoid fever is called paratyphoid fever. This infection is caused by the bacteria Salmonella Paratyphi. Typhoid fever and paratyphoid fever are collectively called enteric fever.
Are You A Carrier Of Typhoid Fever?
A carrier of typhoid fever is a person who does not show any symptoms of typhoid, but harbors the Salmonella Typhi bacteria inside his body. A patient may turn into a carrier of typhoid bacteria even after his symptoms have disappeared. A carrier may keep shedding the Salmonella Typhi bacteria through his stools or urine for about more than a year, and acts as potential source for the contamination of food/water and the spread of the disease.
How Does Typhoid Fever Spread?
Inadequate hygiene and poor sanitation contribute to the spread of the bacteria that causes typhoid fever. When a person drinks water or eats food that is contaminated with such bacteria, he acquires the infection. The food and water may be contaminated by any of the following:
The stool or urine passed by a typhoid patient may spread the disease as they contain such bacteria. When these infectious microbes mix with a source of water, they cause its contamination.
- People such as hotel cooks, hospital workers, and hospital staff carry a high risk of being carriers and contribute to the spread of typhoid fever.
- People who use antacids frequently are at risk of spreading the infection, as antacids reduce acid production in the stomach and create a favorable environment for the bacteria to thrive.
- Patients with intestinal diseases, biliary diseases, or diseases of the stomach are also capable of spreading typhoid fever.
- Children who are less than 1 year of age and people who inadvertently use antibiotic medicines also carry the risk of transmitting this infection.
The Symptoms Of Typhoid Fever
The general symptoms of typhoid include:
- Fever: The body temperature of the affected individual may rise up to around 1030 or 1050 Fahrenheit. About 75% of typhoid patients experience fever as the main symptom of the infection. The fever may fluctuate and may be associated with chills as well.
- Aches: The patient is likely to experience muscle pain, generalized body ache, and headaches. Fatigue and weakness are also common symptoms.
- Abdominal Pain: This can be observed in around 20 to 40% of typhoid patients.
- Low Appetite: This is also one of the most common typhoid symptoms.
- Constipation/Diarrhea: Some patients report constipation, while some complain of diarrhea. The frequency of stools may increase up to 6 to 8 times a day. The stool also carries a characteristic smell.
- Neurological Symptoms: The patient’s behavior is altered, and he often wears a confused look.
- Rashes: Rose spots may appear over the skin of the patient’s chest and in his abdominal region.
Besides these general symptoms, the typical pattern of fever experienced by patients helps distinguish typhoid from other diseases. After acquiring a typhoid infection (i.e. after the entry of the Salmonella bacteria into the body), the incubation period can vary from 3 to 21 days. Once it is over, the symptoms start appearing. The pattern of symptoms and signs varies as per the duration of typhoid and the course of treatment adopted. The symptoms vary during the first through the fourth/fifth week.
Why Is Typhoid Fever A Serious Condition?
Though the symptoms of typhoid fever appear like those of very commonly occurring illnesses, typhoid may prove dangerous if not diagnosed early through a typhoid test or paid adequate attention. In untreated cases, typhoid fever may complicate things with intestinal perforation, spread of the infection to the peritoneum (sac around the intestines, in the abdomen), intestinal bleeding, or other serious complications. This fact makes it very important to diagnose and treat typhoid fever at the earliest. Previously it was a fatal disease, but with the use of antibiotics, death rate due to the disease and its complications has reduced to a great extent nowadays.
Diagnosing Typhoid Fever – The Options Available
A variety of tests are used to diagnose typhoid, each having its own benefits and limitations:
- Widal Test is a serological test to detect typhoid antigens (H and O) in the blood of the patient
- Microbiological Culture Test helps detect and isolate the Salmonella Typhi
- Urine Culture, Stool Culture, and Blood Culture tests help detect the presence of the typhoid bacteria and diagnose the disease
Typhoid Fever Treatment Measures
Though the typhoid fever treatment measures are many, the disease is mainly countered in three ways.
Treating The Main Cause
Destroying Salmonella Typhi present in the patient’s body is the aim of such therapy. Various antibiotics are used to kill these bacteria, and examples of these include Ciprofloxacin, Ceftriaxone, and Cefotaxime. The choice of drug, its dosage, and the duration of the therapy depend on factors such as the severity of the illness, the age of the person, and the sensitivity of drugs.
Treating The Symptoms
For fever, antipyretics (fever-reducing drugs) like paracetamol are used. For headaches, body aches, and muscle pains, analgesics (painkillers) like ibuprofen and diclofenac are used.
Treating The Complications (If Any)
Complications of typhoid such as intestinal perforation and peritonitis have to be treated with surgical intervention. The treatment depends upon the type and severity of the complication.
Measures To Prevent Typhoid And Its Spread
If you have had typhoid fever in the past, you might still be a potential carrier of the typhoid bacteria even if there are no visible symptoms. Even if you have not had typhoid before, you are susceptible to the condition. To avoid being struck with typhoid, it is recommended that you:
- Take adequate hygienic and sanitary measures. Insist on important practices like washing hands properly, eating uncontaminated food, and drinking uncontaminated water.
- Boil water or simply chlorinate it before drinking.
Typhoid fever can turn out to be fatal if it‘s not diagnosed and treated at the right time, and the best way to beat it is by preventing it in the first place.