Here are some quick facts on epidemic typhus, that should make you very grateful that you didn’t live a century ago:
- 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.
- 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%.
- 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, healthline.com, medicine.net)