What is typhoid fever? What is the history of typhoid fever?
Typhoid fever is an acute infectious illness associated with fever that is most often caused by the Salmonella typhi bacteria. It can also be caused by Salmonella paratyphi, a related bacterium that usually leads to a less severe illness. The bacteria are deposited through fecal contamination in water or food by a human carrier and are then spread to other people in the area. Typhoid fever is rare in industrial countries but continues to be a significant public-health issue in developing countries.
The incidence of typhoid fever in the United States has decreased since the early 1900s. Today, approximately 5,700 cases are reported annually in the United States, mostly in people who recently have traveled to endemic areas. This is in comparison to the 1920s, when over 35,000 cases were reported in the U.S., with a 20% fatality rate.
Several outbreaks in the New York City area in the early 1900s were caused by a healthy carrier referred to as Typhoid Mary (her real name was Mary Mallon), who was infected, worked as a cook, and repeatedly spread the disease to others.
The decrease in cases in the United States is the result of improved environmental sanitation, vaccination, and treatment with antibiotics. Mexico and South America are the most common areas for U.S. citizens to contract typhoid fever. India, Pakistan, and Egypt are also known high-risk areas for developing this disease. Worldwide, typhoid fever affects more than 21 million people annually, with over 200,000 patients dying of the disease.
If traveling to endemic areas, you should consult with your health care professional and discuss if you should receive vaccination for typhoid fever.