Typhoid fever is a bacterial infection caused by an extremely infectious strain of salmonella. Salmonella is spread via fecal-oral transmission and is typically found in contaminated food, water and other beverages. More than 22 million cases of typhoid fever per year are reported worldwide, and an estimated 200,000 people every year die from the infection. Each year in the U.S., approximately 400 cases are documented, often after patients have traveled abroad.
Initial symptoms of typhoid fever are similar to that of food poisoning brought on by salmonella. These might include:
• A sustained high or spiking fever
• Abdominal pain
• Loss of appetite
"With typhoid fever, it's really [about] what happens over time," ER physician Dr. Travis Stork says. "Instead of getting better, you're potentially getting more and more sick."
Following an incubation period of one to two weeks, the infection can reach an advanced stage, in which intestinal erosion and bowel perforation occur. Death typically results from septic shock or arterial aneurysms soon after.
If diagnosed early, typhoid fever can be treated with antibiotics; once treated, there is a high recovery rate. It only becomes lethal after the bacteria has had time to multiply in the body.
Vaccines are available to protect against contracting typhoid fever, but they are not 100 percent effective. "The best advice [is to] wash your hands and [properly] cook your food," infectious disease specialist Dr. Brad Spellberg says. "If you can't peel it, or cook it or wash it, you shouldn't be eating it overseas."