Typhus (body lice) is a small insect that is hardly the size of a sesame seed. Typhus is commonly found in personal items like towels, bedding and clothing. Because body lice need to feed, it will keep moving to your skin where it can feed on the blood. Parts of the body that are highly favored by typhus include armpits, waist and groin area. In contrast to other sites, these are places where seams of clothing often come into contact with the skin.
Typhus is more likely to be found in crowded areas like nursing homes, dormitories and refugee camps. Personal hygiene also plays a huge role in typhus transmission. If you are not keen on your personal cleanliness, then the odds of contracting body lice are high. As is the case with other insects that cause diseases such as malaria, typhus has been known to trigger certain types of diseases. As a matter of fact, typhus pandemic has been declared over the years in certain countries.
Attires, bedding and personal effects like towels that are infested with typhus ought to be washed in hot water mixed with quality detergent. Preferably, the laundering should take place in a washing machine.
Facts about typhus
Listed below are some of the facts that you need to know about typhus:
- Typhus is a type of bacterial infection. There are basically two forms of typhus. These are endemic typhus and epidemic typhus.
- The bacteria-causing typhus is usually transmitted by vectors like fleas and lice. The latter is the one that causes epidemic typhus, while the former causes endemic typhus.
- The risk factors of typhus include frequenting crowded areas like nursing homes and dormitories and areas where there are rats and mice. Susceptibility to typhus is also increased by failure to observe personal hygiene.
- The signs and symptoms of endemic typhus include rash, diarrhea, vomiting, high fever and malaise. The rash often starts on the upper torso before spreading to other parts of the body. Epidemic typhus also bears similar symptoms to endemic typhus except that they are more severe and may also include bleeding, delirium and even death. According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), endemic typhus has caused the death of between 10 and 60 percent of sufferers.
- Diagnosis of typhus usually entails digging deeper into a patient’s medical history as well as physical examination.
- Treatment of typhus is usually done using antibiotics.
What causes typhus?
As pointed out earlier, typhus is caused by a type of bacteria that is usually found in fleas and lice. Transmission usually occurs when one comes into contact with pets that are afflicted by fleas and mice containing lice and fleas on their bodies. Once the lice and fleas are passed to your body, you can easily spread it to other people through contact. It is for this reason that you need to try as much as possible to avoid crowded areas like dormitories and nursing homes. If you have to frequent those areas, then you need to make sure that your personal hygiene is impeccable.
What are the risk factors?
Risk factors in this context refer to elements that make you prone to the infection. The risk factors for typhus include residing in crowded areas like nursing homes and dormitories where the infection is endemic. Then again, typhus is quite common in port cities since the rat populations in those cities are extremely high. Locations where waste products are discarded should also be avoided since there is a large population of rats and as such makes you prone to typhus.
Besides residing where there is typhus endemic, you can also become susceptible to typhus if you are in a disaster area, poverty-ridden area or locations where there are many homeless people. So long as you are in an area that offers an environment for rodents to thrive in, you become prone to typhus. Note that, these are the same conditions that lead to the outbreak of diseases such as influenza, tuberculosis and cholera.
The times of the year when typhus is quite common are spring and summer. The temperatures during these months are quite high and as such provide the perfect environment for the vectors to breed.
What are the signs and symptoms of typhus?
The signs and symptoms of endemic typhus tend to develop between 1 and 2 weeks after the initial exposure. High fever, nausea, headaches, diarrhea, malaise, rash and vomiting are some of the signs and symptoms that a majority of people who have endemic typhus display. More than often, you’ll notice rashes on your body followed by high fever and sometimes coughing.
Rashes tend to develop roughly 4 to 7 days after the initial exposure and often begin on either the chest or belly before spreading to other parts of the body. According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), a number of patients who acquire endemic typhus may also experience pains in the joints, intestinal pain and back aches. The symptoms mentioned herein can last for a period of 2 weeks. Failing to seek treatment for typhus can result in further medical complications or even death. In a report released by the CDC, it is believed that roughly 2 percent of people who acquire endemic typhus die from it.
Whereas the signs and symptoms displayed by people suffering from epidemic typhus are more or less the same to those shown by people suffering from endemic typhus, they tend to be sever. The rashes can cover the whole body other than the soles of the feet and palms of your hands. Patients who are diagnosed with epidemic typhus are also known to experience bleeding on the skin, stupor and delirium. Shock is also one of the symptoms displayed by people suffering from epidemic typhus. Unfortunately, patients who experience shock hardly recover from it.
How is diagnosis made?
More than often, diagnosis for typhus will entail getting a patient’s medical history, conducting a physical exam and observing the symptoms. Tests can also be done to confirm the presence of the bacteria-causing typhus. Tests for the bacteria-causing typhus are usually conducted by obtaining samples from the skin and blood, after which a culture test is done so as to determine the best antibiotic to prescribe.
Diagnosis is not only done when trying to determine whether or not you are suffering from typhus, but after the treatment for typhus is completed. While carrying out tests for typhus, the clinic or hospital may also make the decision to contact the CDC in order to obtain more information on how to do a thorough test for typhus. Then again, the CDC will be contacted it is determined that there is an outbreak of typhus in an area.
What is the treatment for typhus?
Since typhus is caused by a bacterium, treatment is usually done using antibiotics. Antibiotics are used regardless of whether or not you have been diagnosed with endemic or epidemic typhus. Treatment should not be delayed as it is only effective during the early stages of the disease. Examples of antibiotics that are used in the treatment of typhus include chloramphenicol, azithromycin, tetracycline and doxycycline.
Patients who have been diagnosed with typhus are highly advised against self-medication. Instead, they should consider seeing an infectious disease specialist who will then recommend the right course of treatment depending on whether or not you are suffering from endemic or epidemic typhus. Pregnant women who think that they are suffering from typhus should also see a doctor as soon as possible so as to avoid possible complications that may be caused due to delayed treatment. Depending on the status of your immune system and the duration of the, treatment can take more than can take more than a week.
Can typhus cause health complications?
As is the case with any other bacterial or viral infection, typhus can cause a myriad of health complications, especially if treatment is delayed. Listed below are some of the complications that you may develop as a result of suffering from typhus:
- Secondary Infections: The rashes on the skin can be so annoying that the only solution may seem scratching. Regrettably, when the skin is scratched, it breaks thus exposing you to a myriad of infections.
- Changes in your skin complexion: Both epidemic and endemic typhus can cause changes in your skin complexion.
- Low self-esteem: Low self-esteem can be as a result of the rashes that are on your body. As such, you may find it hard to step outdoors during the course of treatment.
Is typhus a preventable disease?
All forms of bacterial and viral infections are preventable. Listed below are some of the preventive measures that you can put in place in order to prevent the spread of the disease in addition to acquiring it in the first place:
- Avoid places where there are rodents.
- Avoid sharing personal items like towels and bedding.
- While washing your clothes and bedding, use hot water and quality detergent.
- Minimize visits to crowded areas.