When a Nigerian tells you ‘my body is hot, i have headache and my stomach is paining me’ you usually conclude they have malaria first or typhoid next. Many a diagnosis has been made in homes with the aid of these few words and a good number have been off the mark. The typhoid fever is an acute illness associated with fever caused by the Salmonella enterica serotype Typhi bacteria. It can also be caused by Salmonella paratyphi, a related bacterium that usually causes a less severe illness. The bacterium lives in the intestines and bloodstream of humans. It spreads between individuals by direct contact with the feces of an infected person usually through contaminated food or water.
Symptoms normally begin between 6 and 30 days after exposure to the bacteria. Typhoid always comes along with a high-grade fever, and sometimes with a rash known as rose coloured spots particularly on the neck and abdomen. Other symptoms include:
- Weakness and fatigue
- Muscle aches
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
- Abdominal pain
- Diarrhea or constipation.
Intestinal bleeding or holes (perforations) in the intestine — may develop in the third week of illness. A perforated intestine occurs when the small intestine or large bowel develops a hole, causing intestinal contents to leak into the abdominal cavity and this complication is very severe and life-threatening. Typhoid fever should never be allowed to progress into this stage and prompt diagnosis and treatment is encouraged. Typhoid fever should not be treated without a medical diagnosis. The indiscriminate use of antibiotics has led to antibiotic resistance by this organism and this poses a great dilemma to health professionals. Vaccination against typhoid fever is available but is not 100% effective as it’s potency decreases with time hence preventive measures should always be taken. These may include:
- Be mindful of what you eat and drink. Drinking water is to be obtained from a proper source.
- Food preparation should also be done in a neat environment.
- Always wash your hands after using the toilet or before eating your food.
- Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly in clean water before cooking or eating. Ideally, it’s advisable to totally avoid raw foods.
Observance of the rules of personal, food and water hygiene go a long way in preventing this disease. Approximately 3%-5% of patients become carriers of the bacteria after the acute illness and these people can be the source of outbreaks years later. These people show no signs and symptoms of the disease and can literally be dubbed ‘silent killers’. It is essential to note once more that typhoid fever should NOT be treated without a medical diagnosis.