Many of you have probably never heard of typhus, or you may have it confused with another disease called typhoid. Although the two names sound alike, and both typhus and typhoid can lead to serious health complications and even death, the two diseases are completely different. What are these two diseases and where do they come from? Let’s take a look.
What’s the Difference between Typhus and Typhoid Fever?
Typhus fever is caused by the bacteria Rickettsia, which is transferred to humans through arthropods like lice, ticks, mites, or fleas. Typhoid fever is caused by the bacteria Salmonella typhi, which is related to the salmonella that causes food poisoning.
How Do Typhus and Typhoid Spread?
Typhus is not spread from person to person. There are three types of typhus: epidemic/louse-borne, which is spread by body lice; endemic, which is spread by cat or rat fleas; and scrub typhus, which is spread by mites. The key to preventing the spread of typhus is to avoid direct contact with these arthropods and the animals or environments where they are found.
Typhoid, on the other hand, can spread from person to person. The bacteria typically lives in humans and is transmitted through food or drinks contaminated with Salmonella typhi bacteria from a person’s feces or urine. As soon as it enters the body, the bacteria multiplies quickly in the bloodstream. Some people who recover from typhoid can become carriers of the bacteria. This means they can pass the disease to others even if they show no symptoms.
What Are Symptoms of Typhus and Typhoid Fever?
Typhus symptoms typically come on suddenly. An infected person may experience a severe headache, a rash that originates from the back or chest, a high fever typically above 102.2°F, confusion, low blood pressure, muscle pain, and sensitivity to bright lights.
Symptoms of typhoid fever can come on gradually over a few weeks or appear suddenly. Common symptoms include high fever, a stomachache, and achiness a week or two after exposure to the bacteria. More serious cases can cause an infected person to lose weight, have abdominal bloating, and develop a red, spotted rash on the lower chest or upper belly. Sometimes, the symptoms go away and come back.
The type of typhus most commonly found in the United States is the epidemic/louse-borne typhus, but the one causing the recent outbreak in Los Angeles is flea-borne.
Typhoid is rare in the United States and is more commonly found in developing countries across South-Central and Southeast Asia, Africa, Latin America, or the Caribbean.