Diarrhea, headache, lethargy, and a 103-degree fever weren't what you had in mind for your much-awaited South American vacation. Instead of avidly scaling the ruins of Machu Picchu, you languish in your hotel room bed with typhoid fever. As the virulent Salmonella typhi bacteria establishes a stronghold in your body, your traveling companion worriedly scrolls the pages of the Centers for Disease Control website on the third world's most dodgy Internet connection to tell you what else you can expect as typhoid progresses: rapid weight loss, an extended abdomen, and motionless delirium--and continuing high fever, of course. At least four weeks of acute illness wasn't supposed to be a part of your travel plan, but at least when someone back home asks you, "How on earth did you get typhoid?" you'll be able to tell them.
Get Typhoid Fever in Five Steps
Fail to get a typhoid vaccination before you travel to countries where typhoid is prevalent--your health has always been good. But the Mayo Clinic notes that typhoid is endemic to developing nations such as India, Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia. Typhoid vaccines may consist of a single injection or four doses of oral tablets that must be completed at least a week before travel, notes the CDC.
Drink the water. S. typhi can contaminate sewage, which in turn finds its way into the water supply. The CDC urges you to drink bottled water (preferably carbonated) and other beverages if you want to prevent typhoid. When eating out, request that drinks be served without ice.
Purchase food from street vendors. Part of the delight of traveling afar are the colorful kiosks lining the streets that feature local delicacies. Turns out you could have done without that paleta; the CDC warns that water used in popsicles and other icy treats can be contaminated with the typhoid bacteria. Food handled by vendors with typhoid fever who don't wash their hands after going to the bathroom can be contaminated, as S. typhi is spread through the oral-fecal route.
Eat raw fruits and vegetables, such as lettuce, that cannot be peeled. You're less likely to consume typhoid-contaminated foods if you can peel them, notes the CDC. But make sure not to eat the peelings and to wash your hands before you handle food. When it comes to food selection, the CDC notes that hot, cooked foods are far safer.
Don't wash your hands. The Mayo Clinic states that hand-washing with hot, soapy water is the best way to prevent typhoid, particularly after you use the bathroom or before eating or preparing food. Alternately, alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be used whenever water isn't available for hand-washing.
Tips & Warnings
- Typhoid fever isn't common in the U.S. According to the National Institutes of Health, only 400 cases occur annually, most of which are brought in from overseas.
- It's possible for someone to be a carrier of typhoid after suffering from the disease; the first to be identified as a carrier in the U.S. was Mary Mallon, also known as "Typhoid Mary," in 1907.
- Famous people who perished from typhoid fever include writer Rudyard Kipling and composer Franz Schubert.
- Left untreated, typhoid fever can result in death. The CDC urges you to contact a doctor if you suspect you have typhoid. If you're traveling, contact the U.S. Consulate for assistance in finding a health care provider.
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