Contracting typhus from lice


Here are some quick facts on epidemic typhus,  that should make you very grateful that you didn’t live a century ago:

Read: How to comb out head lice 

- Epidemic typhus is spread by the bacteria Rickettsia prowazekii that are found in lice.

- Inhalation of this bacteria can also cause typhus.

- There is a 5–14 day incubation period, which is why people often only develop symptoms of this disease when they return from holiday.

- Epidemic typhus is more prevalent in the winter months, especially if people do not launder their possibly infested clothing as often.

- Typhus often breaks out in areas where there has been a war on natural disasters, or areas that are impoverished or contain many homeless people.

Read: Everything you need to know about head lice 

- Symptoms of this disease include chills, confusion, a cough, high fever, joint pain, sensitive eyes, a rash and a severe headache.

- Blood tests for typhus may show a high level of typhus antibodies, a low sodium level and a low level of albumin

- Typhus can be treated with antibiotics such as doxycycline and tetracycline.

- Tetracycline can stain teeth that are still forming, so is almost never given to young children.

- If there is no effective treatment available (as in the trenches of WW1) the death rate can be between 10 – 60%.

Read: 20 head lice myths debunked 

- Patients over 60 have the highest risk of death.

- Possible complications of typhus can include kidney problems, pneumonia and central nervous system damage.

- Good sanitation and public health measures can reduce the rat population, which in turn reduces the number of fleas and lice.

- Typhus can be largely prevented by avoiding areas where sanitation is poor, by not wearing infected clothing for at least 5 days (lice cannot survive this long without feeding on blood) and using insecticides to prevent being bitten.

(Sources: National Institutes of Health,,

Read more: 

Love taking selfies? It may spread head lice  

 Causes of head lice  

Wet combing best for spotting lice

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