Understanding Typhus

Typhus is an umbrella of similar diseases caused by the Rickettsia bacteria.  It comes from the Greek work "typhos," meaning smoky or lazy, describing the state of mind of those affected with the disease. 

The Rickettsia bacteria are endemic to rodents and spreads to humans by mites, fleas, and body lice.  It is primarily transferred by common fleas, although poor hygienic environments can also worsen the spread of bacteria.

Types of typhus

There are different types of typhus, among them are epidemic, endemic, and scrub.  Epidemic typhus, also known as Camp Fever, is so named because this disease usually causes epidemics after wars and natural disasters. 

Endemic typhus, also referred to as "rat flea typhus," is caused by the bacteria Rickettsia typhi and is transmitted by fleas that infest on rats. 

Scrub typhus, also called "chigger-borne typhus," is caused by bacteria of another genus (Orientia tsutsugamushi) and is frequently separately classified from other typhi.  This disease is caused by chiggers or harvest mites, which are found in areas of heavy scrub vegetation.

The first mention of typhus was probably in 1083 at a convent near Salermo, Italy.  In 1546, Girolamo Fracastro, a physician in Salermo, Italy, described typhus through his treatise on viruses and contagion, "De Contagione et Contagiosis Morbis."

Typhus was a devastating disease for humans, being responsible in a number of epidemics around the world.  It was only during World War II that a vaccine against the disease was developed.

Symptoms of typhus

Although there are different types of typhus, they possess common typhus symptoms include severe headache, sustained high fever, cough, rash, severe muscle pain, chills, falling blood pressure, stupor, sensitivity to light, and delirium. 

A prominent rash appears on the chest about five days after the fever appears, and spreads to the trunk and extremities but sparing the face, palms, and soles.

How to treat typhus?

Typhus is treatable using antibiotics, while giving intravenous fluids and oxygen in order to stabilize the patient.  Infection can also be prevented through vaccination.