What’s the Fuss About Typhus Disease?

Just at the moment when the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) is struggling to combat the outbreak of Dengue, Scrub Typhus (a mite-borne infectious disease) appeared as a new threat to keep the civic bosses on their toes. Transmitted to the humans from the bite of an infected chigger (bug or a pest), the symptoms of typhus is not much different from Dengue. As a result, a differential diagnosis of Dengue and Typhus disease is not always possible. Being undiagnosed for an extended period of time, some people have already succumbed to death.

As the fever is raising its ugly head across the city, we at Careclues has decided to probe into the scenario to find out the causes and symptoms of Typhus.

Causes of Typhus

Unlike Dengue, Typhus is caused Rickettsia rickettsii bacteria, which gets transmitted to the human body through the bites of infected mites (chiggers), fleas, lice or ticks. The bite of infected bugs causes itching in the affected area. Scratching it opens up the area, thus making it easier for the bacteria to enter into the bloodstream. Rickettsia rickettsii bacteria thrive and propagate massively in the human bloodstream.

Types of Typhus

Typhus disease can be broadly classified into three different categories depending on the type of bacteria that has affected you.

  • Epidemic (or louse-borne) typhus- This is essentially triggered by the multiplication of Rickettsia prowazekii in the bloodstream. This has mainly occurred in the areas with poor sanitation as it promotes lice infestation.
  • Endemic typhus- Found worldwide, the endemic typhus is caused by Rickettsia Typhi bacteria, which is essentially carried by the infected rats. Endemic typhus is also known as murine typhus.
  • Scrub typhus- Caused by Orientia tsutsugamushi, Scrub typhus is caused by the bite of mites. This type of typhus is mostly common in countries like in Asia, Australia, Papua New Guinea, and the Pacific Islands. It’s also known as tsutsugamushi disease.

Symptoms of Typhus

As mentioned earlier,  most of the symptoms of typhus disease mimic  Dengue,  but,  sometimes  they differ depending on the type of typhus. However,  there are some common  symptoms  associated with  all three types. These are:

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Rash

However, the symptoms of epidemic typhus start all of a sudden and includes:

  • Severe headache
  • High fever (sometimes over 104 degree Fahrenheit)
  • Slowly spreading rashes on the back and chest
  • Confusion
  • Stupor and black outs
  • Low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Visual sensitivity (especially with the bright lights)
  • Excruciating muscle pain

People affected by Scrub typhus experience all these symptoms along with the following:

  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Fatigue
  • Lesion or sore in the skin at the site of the bite
  • Rashes and incessant coughs

Diagnosis and Treatment

Due to its similarity with Dengue, diagnosis often becomes difficult.  However, the following tests are usually performed to make sure that you are affected with typhus:

  • Skin biopsy (skin sample is taken from the rash to test in the lab)
  • Western blot (it is used to identify the presence of typhus bacteria in the bloodstream)
  • Immunofluorescence test (used for detecting typhus in the samples of sputum)
  • Blood test (regular blood test to diagnose the presence of infection)

Antibiotics are essentially used for treating the disease. Here’s a list of chemical composition that are extremely beneficial.

  • Doxycycline (the most preferred treatment)
  • Ciprofloxacin (used in those who can’t consume doxycycline)
  • Chloramphenicol (avoid if you are a pregnant or a breastfeeding mom)


Preventing Typhus

Since, there’s no such vaccine to prevent the typhus infection at present, the easiest way to prevent the disease is to avoid the insects that spread it. Start following these tips as soon as possible:

  • Maintain personal hygiene
  • Control the rodent population, as they are known to carry arthropods
  • Keep your surroundings clean and use insect repellent. Perform routine examinations for ticks, lice and rats
  • Focus on Proper Sanitation


The Final Note…

Since the symptoms of Dengue and Typhus disease is mostly common, make sure that you get the proper diagnosis. Otherwise, you might develop severe complications like hepatitis, gastrointestinal haemorrhage and hypovolaemia. In case of delayed treatment, patients might die.