Overview – What is it?
Typhoid is a bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Salmonellae typhimurium (S. typhi) which lives in the bloodstream and intestines of an infected person and can spread to other parts of the body. The infection comes about through ingestion of food or water contaminated with the faeces of a person infected with the typhoid bacteria, or by coming into direct contact with the faeces of an infected person. Symptoms include fever and abdominal pain.
It can be diagnosed through tests, including a blood test, urine test or stool test. After diagnosis, antibiotics are then used to treat the disease. However, in some cases the typhoid may be resistant to the antibiotics. Some people can become typhoid carriers even after treatment.
Practising hygiene, especially when dealing with food preparation, and being vaccinated against typhoid, are some of the ways one can prevent oneself from contracting this disease that takes the lives of thousands of people each year.
Causes – What causes it?
The bacterium can enter the body through ingestion of food or water contaminated with the faeces of a person infected with the typhoid bacteria, or by coming into direct contact with the faeces of a typhoid infected person.
A person can be a carrier of the bacterium (which multiplies in the liver, gallbladder and bile duct) and can spread the disease to other people, making the typhoid problem worse.
The different types of typhoid carriers, include:
- Convalescent carriers: These carriers shed typhoid bacilli for 3 or more months after the start of acute illness.
- Chronic carriers: These carriers shed the typhoid bacilli more than 12 months after the start of acute illness.
Symptoms – What do you feel?
The symptoms can take 1 to 2 weeks to start occurring, and include:
- Unintentional loss of appetite and weight,
- Pain in the abdomen,
- High fever of 39.4 – 40 degrees Celsius,
- General body pains,
- Bleeding in the intestines,
- Diarrhoea, and
Diagnosis – How do you diagnose it?
Once you have explained your symptoms to a doctor and have had a physical examination done, the following tests can be done to determine whether you have typhoid or another disease with similar symptoms:
- Blood test: A sample of blood is tested to check for the presence of the bacteria in the blood.
- Stool or urine tests: A sample is taken and checked for the bacteria under a microscope.
- Widal test: A test used to test for the presence of serum agglutinins in people.
- Bone marrow test: A test done only if other tests are unable to confirm if typhoid is present in the body.
- Rapid tests, for example the IDL Tubex test: A faster test used to detect antibodies released by the body to fight typhoid.
Treatment – How do you treat it?
Antibiotics are the most effective treatment for typhoid. Some examples include:
- Ciprofloxacin: Used especially for non- pregnant typhoid patients.
- Ceftriaxone: This drug is administered through injection and can be used for children who cannot use Ciprofloxacin.
- Ampicillin and Trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole: Can be used but have encountered resistance by the bacteria to the treatment.
- Chloramphenicol: Used for many years until it was realised that it gave serious side effects and was replaced by other antibiotics.
Prevention – How do you prevent it?
- Vaccination: You can prevent yourself from contracting the disease by getting vaccinated – a good idea, especially if you live in, or are travelling to, an area where typhoid is common. The vaccine can be administered orally or through injection. It should, however, not be administered to someone who is ill.
- Drink bottled, treated or boiled water.
- Be careful about eating food that has been prepared by someone else.
- Wash vegetables and fruits well before cooking or eating.
People who have typhoid, should do the following, to prevent the disease from spreading to other people:
- Wash their hands often, and always after defecating,
- Avoid preparing food until they are confirmed to be noncontagious, and
- Ensure they take their antibiotics.
It is important to get regular check-ups when you live in an area where typhoid is common. If you are a typhoid carrier, you should visit the hospital regularly – at least twice a year for continuing treatment.