Ask the experts
I've never heard of typhoid fever until a couple days ago when my aunt caught it as part of an outbreak at the hospital. I visited her, and she's really sick. Can you die of typhoid fever? How deadly is typhoid?
Yes, typhoid fever or typhus is deadly, but with modern treatments, very few die of it. Typhoid fever is treated with antibiotics that kill the Salmonella bacteria. Prior to the use of antibiotics, the fatality rate was 20%. Death occurred from overwhelming infection, pneumonia, intestinal bleeding, or intestinal perforation. With antibiotics and supportive care, mortality has been reduced to 1%-2%. With appropriate antibiotic therapy, there is usually improvement within one to two days and recovery within seven to 10 days.
Several antibiotics are effective for the treatment of typhoid fever. Chloramphenicol was the original drug of choice for many years. Because of rare serious side effects, chloramphenicol has been replaced by other effective antibiotics. The choice of antibiotics needs to be guided by identifying the geographic region where the organism was acquired and the results of cultures once available. (Certain strains from South America show a significant resistance to some antibiotics.) Ciprofloxacin (Cipro) is the most frequently used drug in the U.S. for nonpregnant patients. Ceftriaxone (Rocephin), an intramuscular injection medication, is an alternative for pregnant patients. Ampicillin (Omnipen, Polycillin, Principen) and trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim, Septra) are frequently prescribed antibiotics although resistance has been reported in recent years.
Multi-drug resistance has been reported, and cultures are used to guide treatment. If relapses occur, patients are retreated with antibiotics.
The carrier state, which occurs in 3%-5% of those infected, can be treated with prolonged antibiotics. Often, removal of the gallbladder, the site of chronic infection, will cure the carrier state.
For more information, see our full medical article on typhoid fever.
United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Typhoid Fever." July 18, 2016. <https://www.cdc.gov/typhoid-fever/index.html>.