Compared to gastroenteritis from salmonella poisoning, typhoid fever is very rare. About 5,700 cases occur in the United States every year, and about 75% of those are contracted overseas. Compare that with more than 1 million sickened in the U.S. by nontyphoidal salmonella bacteria.
In developing regions, typhoid fever remains a serious and relatively common disease. Worldwide about 21.5 million people are afflicted with it each year, resulting in 200,000 deaths. Each year another 2 million people worldwide are estimated to contract the related disease paratyphoid fever.
Typhoid Fever Symptoms
Typhoid comes on gradually. Symptoms don’t develop for about a week after infection. Then it takes about three to four days for a low-grade fever to rise, sometimes as high as 104 degrees. These fevers tend to be worse in the afternoon and evening.
Along with fever, almost all people with typhoid experience headaches, loss of appetite, and the soreness and uneasiness associated with an approaching sickness known as malaise. Many people experience diarrhea, constipation, and pain in their abdomens, and their spleen and liver may swell. Sometimes people with this condition develop rosy spots that move from place to place along their trunk.
Treatment for typhoid is crucial. Without treatment, the fever lasts for about a month and as many as 30% of those infected will die from the disease. Antibiotics are used to eradicate the disease, though this takes about three to five days, during which time a patient’s symptoms may actually get worse. This effort is hampered by the increasing resistance Salmonella bacteria have shown to antimicrobial medicine.
There are two vaccines that help lower your chances of contracting typhoid fever. One is a shot of the inactivated (killed) bacteria, while the other is an oral medicine of a weakened form of the microbe. The shot can be administered to people older than 2, but needs a booster after two years. The oral medicine is for ages 6 and up, and needs a booster every five years.
The vaccines are not 100% effective, though. If you are traveling to an area where typhoid is a known problem, you will want to take additional precautions. Be careful about where you find your food and water—these are common sources of infection. Also, do your best to avoid anyone sickened by the disease. This isn’t perfectly effective either, though, because someone who is contagious may not have symptoms.