Typhoid fever is a bacterial infection that is common in many parts of the world. It is spread by contaminated water and food and primarily affects the digestive system.
In many developing countries, typhoid fever is a major problem. An estimated 21 million are infected and more than 200,000 die each year worldwide. The disease is especially common in parts of Asia, Africa, and South America where pure water is not readily available and sewage treatment is inadequate. In many countries, children are the most likely to get typhoid.
Typhoid fever is caused by a bacterium called Salmonella typhi. It is related to the Salmonella bacteria that cause food poisoning, but they are not exactly the same.
S. typhi bacteria are present in the solid wastes (stool) of infected people, including some “healthy carriers” who have no symptoms of illness. The bacteria can spread if human waste gets into water that is used for drinking, irrigating crops, or washing food. Typhoid is also occasionally transmitted through an infected person who is working in food preparation. Once swallowed, the bacteria move from the digestive tract into the bloodstream and then to the liver * , spleen * , gallbladder * , and lymph nodes * .
The symptoms of typhoid fever come on gradually. At first, people may get a headache, stomachache, and constipation *
A blood or urine test can usually detect the presence of the bacterium that causes typhoid fever. Antibiotic drugs that fight the bacterial infection can make the illness shorter and milder and prevent complications. Fluids may be given as well to counter the effects of diarrhea. Severe infections can lead to a perforation (hole) in the intestine that requires surgery to repair.
Clean water supplies and effective waste disposal systems are the best ways of preventing typhoid, but these are lacking in many countries. As of 2015, two types of vaccines are available, and both require boosters every three to five years.
Travelers to countries where typhoid fever is common should drink only boiled or bottled water. They should eat only food that has been properly cooked or fruit that they peel themselves and that has not been washed with tap water. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sums up advice for travelers this way: “Boil it, cook it, peel it, or forget it.”
See also Bacterial Infections • Fever • Gastroenteritis • Salmonellosis
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* liver is a large organ located beneath the ribs on the right side of the body. The liver performs numerous digestive and chemical functions essential for health.
* spleen is an organ in the upper left part of the abdomen that stores and filters blood. As part of the immune system, the spleen also plays a role in fighting infection.
* gallbladder is a small pearshaped organ on the right side of the abdomen that stores bile, a liquid that helps the body digest fat.
* lymph nodes (LIMF) are small, bean-shaped masses of tissue containing immune system cells that fight harmful microorganisms. Lymph nodes may swell during infections.
* constipation is the sluggish movement of the bowels, usually resulting in infrequent, hard stools.