What is Typhoid Fever and How is it Transmitted

What is Typhoid Fever and How is it Transmitted


Typhoid fever is a severe and life-threatening disease, endemic in developing countries, spread through contaminated food or drink. Learn how to deal with its symptoms and complications. Typhoid fever is a febrile illness with abdominal pain caused by bacteria type Salmonella. 

It is so-called because it causes fever – typhoid ‘comes from’ typhus’ which comes from the Greek and means’ fever, stupor ‘- and should not be confused with typhus, which is another group of infectious diseases produced by Rickettsia- type bacteria, and that are transmitted by arthropod bites. 

How Typhoid Fever Is Spread

The typhoid bacteria is present only in humans and is transmitted through food or water contaminated with the infected feces or urine.

It produces a picture with very high fevers, up to 40ºC, which can have severe complications and even be fatal if it is not treated correctly. In addition to fever, patients suffer severe abdominal pain. It can be severe in young children, especially in settings with little access to healthcare resources, where it tends to increase.

Fortunately, this infection can be fought with intravenous (in the most severe cases) and oral antibiotics. Typhoid fever cannot be expected to be diagnosed with certainty. The patient is treated empirically with appropriate antibiotics when this process is suspected because delay in treatment can lead to severe complications.

There have been cases of typhoid fever for centuries. It is thought that in pre-Christian Greece, there was some typhoid epidemic, and it is also considered that in the 16th century in America, there were typhoid fever epidemics that devastated the indigenous population. Subsequently, multiple outbreaks have appeared around the world. The bacterium was discovered in 1880 by the German Karl Ebert. As early as 1897, the first vaccine was developed.

This disease constitutes a real public health problem in developing countries, and to combat it, it would be essential to establish public health measures to prevent the appearance of serious epidemics such as the one that occurred in the Congo in the first decade of 2000 or the 2015 outbreak in Uganda. Improving hygienic conditions in the countries where it occurs could minimize its impact. 

Causes of typhoid fever

Typhoid occurs because of the bacterium Salmonella enterica serotype Typhi (formerly known as Salmonella typhi ). Other Salmonella serotypes can also produce a similar syndrome, although it is usually not feasible to distinguish between one bacterium and another based only on the patient’s symptoms. Thus, the term ‘enteric fever’ encompasses this type of typhoid or paratyphoid fever syndromes. It should not be confused with gastroenteritic salmonella.

Salmonella is a bacterium bacillus type gram-negative belonging to enterobacteria. The human being is the only reservoir of this bacterium. Transmission of the disease occurs through the ingestion of food or water contaminated with fecal matter or urine. This contamination can come from acutely infected people and people who carry micro-organisms asymptomatically for long periods.

The transmission during sex, especially among men, has also been described.

When the bacteria are ingested, it can survive stomach acid and reach the small intestine, where it penetrates the epithelial layer and reaches the lymphoid tissue. From there, it spreads through the lymph nodes or the blood. The Salmonella paratyphi species that produce a similar syndrome are less common. Still, they are transmitted in the same way, and the mechanism by which they make the disease is similar.