Typhoid fever is an infection that causes diarrhea and a rash. It is most commonly caused due to a bacteria called Salmonella typhi (S typhi).
S typhi is spread through contaminated food, drink, or water. If you eat or drink something that is contaminated with the bacteria, the bacteria enter your body. They travel into your intestines, and then into your blood. In the blood, they travel to your lymph nodes, gallbladder, liver, spleen, and other parts of the body.
Some people become carriers of S typhi and continue to release the bacteria in their stools for years, spreading the disease.
Typhoid fever is common in developing countries. Most cases in the United States are brought in from other countries where typhoid fever is common.
Early symptoms include fever, general ill-feeling, and abdominal pain. High fever (103°F, or 39.5°C) or higher and severe diarrhea occur as the disease gets worse.
Some people develop a rash called "rose spots," which are small red spots on the abdomen and chest.
Other symptoms that occur include:
- Bloody stools
- Agitation, confusion, delirium, seeing or hearing things that are not there (hallucinations)
- Difficulty paying attention (attention deficit)
- Severe fatigue
- Slow, sluggish, weak feeling
Exams and Tests
The health care provider will perform a physical exam and ask about the symptoms.
A complete blood count (CBC) will show a high number of white blood cells.
A blood culture during the first week of the fever can show S typhi bacteria.
Other tests that can help diagnose this condition include:
- ELISA blood test to look for antibodies to the S typhi bacteria
- Fluorescent antibody study to look for substances that are specific to S typhi bacteria
- Platelet count (platelet count may be low)
- Stool culture
Fluids and electrolytes may be given by IV (into a vein) or you may be asked to drink water with electrolyte packets.
Antibiotics are given to kill the bacteria. There are increasing rates of antibiotic resistance throughout the world, so your provider will check current recommendations before choosing an antibiotic.
Symptoms usually improve in 2 to 4 weeks with treatment. The outcome is likely to be good with early treatment, but becomes poor if complications develop.
Symptoms may return if the treatment has not completely cured the infection.
Health problems that may develop include:
- Intestinal hemorrhage (severe GI bleeding)
- Intestinal perforation
- Kidney failure
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Contact your provider if you have any of the following:
- You know you have been exposed to someone who has typhoid fever
- You have been in an area where there are people who have typhoid fever and you develop symptoms of typhoid fever
- You have had typhoid fever and the symptoms return
- You develop severe abdominal pain, decreased urine output, or other new symptoms
A vaccine is recommended for travel outside of the United States to places where there is typhoid fever. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website has information about where typhoid fever is common -- www.cdc.gov/typhoid-fever/index.html. Ask your provider if you should bring electrolyte packets in case you get sick.
When traveling, drink only boiled or bottled water and eat well-cooked food. Wash you hands thoroughly before eating.
Water treatment, waste disposal, and protecting the food supply from contamination are important public health measures. Carriers of typhoid must not be allowed to work as food handlers.
Harris JB, Ryan ET. Enteric fever and other causes of fever and abdominal symptoms. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases, Updated Edition. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 102.
Wain J, Hendriksen RS, Mikoleit ML, Keddy KH, Ochiai RL. Typhoid fever. Lancet. 2015;385(9973);1136-1145. PMID: 25458731 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25458731.
- Last reviewed on 5/18/2017
- Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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