Typhoid fever

Treatment of typhoid fever

What is typhoid fever?

Typhoid fever is a life threatening illnes which is caused by the bacterium Salmonella typhi. It lives in humans and people with the disease carry the bacteria in their bloodstream and intestinal tract. A small number of people may recover from typhoid fever but still carry the bacteria.

Typhoid fever is transmitted through food and drink which has been handled by a person who is shedding S. typhi. Another method of transmission is through contaminated water used for drinking or washing food. Once the bacteria is consumed, it multiplies and speads into the blood stream causing high fever, stomach pains, headache or loss of appetite. It may also cause a rash. Diagnosis is based on analysis of a stool or blood sample.

How common is it?

Typhoid fever is common in most parts of the world apart from developed countries such as Western Europe, the US, Canada, Australia and Japan. It is estimated that typhoid affects 12.5 million people each year. Therefore, it is strongly advisable to take precautions if you are travelling to regions where you will be at risk.

How is typhoid fever prevented?

The mainstay of prevention is vaccination. You will need to visit your GP or clinic at least one week before travelling in order for the vaccination to work.

However, vaccines may not be fully effective so it is vital to avoid risky foods. Being careful with what you eat and drink will also help protect you from other illnesses such as diarrhoea, hepatitis A, dysentry and cholera.

What food and drink should be avoided?

The phrase ‘Boil it, cook it, peel it or forget it!’ sums up the advice to travellers. Prevention tips include:

  • Buy bottled water or boil it. Bottled carbonated water is safer than still water.
  • Don’t consume ice cubes or ice pops.
  • Only eat foods that have been fully cooked and are hot and steaming.
  • Avoid raw vegetables and salads in restaurants and other food outlets.
  • If you are preparing raw fruit or vegetables, wash your hands thoroughly first, then peel them.
  • Avoid buying food and drink from street vendors or stalls.

Treatment of typhoid fever

If you suspect you have typhoid fever, see a doctor immediately. Antibiotics are used to treat the disease and within 2-3 days, symptoms will subside. However, it is estimated that 20% of those who do not seek treatment die from complications.

It is recommended that people who are being treated for typhoid should:

  • Ensure that they take the full course of prescribed antibiotics.
  • Wash their hands frequently, particularly if preparing food or serving food to other people.
  • Visit a doctor who will take stool tests to confirm that the bacteria is no longer present.

Your GP or vaccination centre will be able to advise you on the precautions necessary for travel to various regions. Travel vaccination information is also available at www.cdc.gov/travel/. The Tropical Medical Bureau, www.tmb.ie is a useful Irish source of information on travel health.

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