What is typhoid fever? Is typhoid still around today?
Typhoid fever is an acute infectious illness associated with fever that is most often caused by the Salmonella typhi bacteria. Salmonella paratyphi, a related bacterium that usually leads to a less severe illness, can also cause typhoid fever. The feces of human carriers of the bacteria may contaminate water or food, and the illness then spreads 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. In 2014, medical professionals reported approximately 300 cases to the CDC, mostly in people who recently traveled to endemic areas. This is in comparison to the 1920s, when there were over 35,000 reported cases in the U.S., with a 20% fatality rate.
In the early 1900s, a healthy carrier called Typhoid Mary (her real name was Mary Mallon) caused several outbreaks in the New York City area; she was infected, worked as a cook, and consequently spread the disease to others.
A recent outbreak affected refugees in Manus Island, Papua New Guinea.
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.