Little Microbiology Blog

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The difference between Typhus and Typhoid.

So this is one of my own personal sticking points, so I thought I’d make a post about it! 

Typhus - This is caused by the Rickettsia family of bacteria, with Rickettsia prowazekii causing epidemic typhus and Rickettsia typhi causing murine typhus.

These organisms are spread by human lice and fleas respectively, after these have fed on an infected individual. The Rickettsia bacteria cannot live outside of a host cell for long, so in a sense they are an obligate parasite. 

Symptoms include a widespread rash, fever, vomiting, photophobia (unable to look at light) and delusions. 

Typhoid Fever - Is cause by the bacterium Salmonella typhi, spread via water contaminated with the faeces of infected individuals. The symptoms closely resemble typhus (hence Typhoid which means typhus-like) and last for about a week, progressing through gradually worsening stages. At the end of the illness complications like bowel perforations can occur. The fever is the most prominent symptom, with a plateau at 40 degrees centigrade. One third of patients get a rash, but it is not the same as those seen in Typhus sufferers. 

In modern times it is easy to treat with antibiotics, however before these were discovered it claimed many lives during epidemics. 

Many historical figures were affected by both diseases, Anne Frank was a victim of Typhus while she was imprisoned in a German concentration camp, as were a lot of French soldiers during the Napoleonic wars.

Tsar Nicholas II survived typhoid fever in 1900, as did the painter Georgia O’ Keefe. Greek war hero Alexander the Great (on whom a retro-diagnosis has been made) is now thought to have died of typhoid fever (while his General Hephaestion died of Typhus 8 months before) rather than the Malaria that was first suspected. 

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