|Classification and external resources|
Rash caused by epidemic typhus
Typhus is any of several similar diseases caused by Rickettsia bacteria. The name comes from the Greek typhos (τῦφος) meaning smoky or hazy, describing the state of mind of those affected with typhus. The causative organism Rickettsia is an obligate parasite bacterium that cannot survive for long outside living cells. Typhus should not be confused with typhoid fever. While "typhoid" means "typhus-like", the diseases are distinct and are caused by different species of bacteria.
Multiple diseases and causes
Multiple diseases include the word "typhus" in their description. Types include:
|Epidemic typhus||Rickettsia prowazekii||Lice on humans||When the term "typhus" is used without qualification, this is usually the condition meant. Also, historical references to "typhus" are now generally considered to be this condition.|
|Murine typhus or "endemic typhus"||Rickettsia typhi||Fleas on rats|
|Scrub typhus||Orientia tsutsugamushi||Harvest mites on humans or rodents||Unlike the two conditions above, though it has the word "typhus" in the name, it is currently usually not classified in the typhus group, but in the closely related spotted fever group.|
|Queensland tick typhus or "Australian tick typhus" (and a spotted fever)||Rickettsia australis||Ticks|
- Bad cough
- High fever (40 °C or 104 °F)
- Joint pain
- Low blood pressure
- Boiling blood
- Photophobia (sensitivity to light)
- Severe headaches
- Severe muscle pain
- Abdominal pain
- Dull red rash that begins on the middle of the body and spreads
- Extremely high fever (105 to 106 °F or 41 °C)
- Hacking, dry cough
- Joint pain
In human history
The first reliable description of the disease appears during the Spanish siege of Moorish Granada in 1489. These accounts include descriptions of fever and red spots over arms, back, and chest, progressing to delirium, gangrenous sores, and the stink of rotting flesh. During the siege, the Spaniards lost 3,000 men to enemy action, but an additional 17,000 died of typhus.
Typhus was also common in prisons, where it was known as 'gaol fever' and often occurred when prisoners were frequently huddled together in dark, filthy rooms where lice spread easily. Thus, "Imprisonment until the next term of court" was often equivalent to a death sentence. Prisoners brought before the court sometimes infected the court itself. Following the Assize held at Oxford in 1577, later deemed the Black Assize, over 300 died from epidemic typhus, including Sir Robert Bell, Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer. During the Lent Assize Court held at Taunton (1730), typhus caused the death of the Lord Chief Baron, as well as the High Sheriff, the sergeant, and hundreds of others. During a time when there were 241 capital offenses, more prisoners died from 'gaol fever' than were put to death by all the public executioners in the British realm. In 1759, an English authority estimated that each year a quarter of the prisoners had died from gaol fever. In London, typhus frequently broke out among the ill-kept prisoners of Newgate Prison and then moved into the general city population. In May 1750, the Lord Mayor of London, Sir Samuel Pennant, and a large number of court personnel were fatally infected in the courtroom of the Old Bailey, which adjoined Newgate Prison.
Epidemics occurred routinely throughout Europe from the 16th to the 19th centuries, including during the English Civil War, the Thirty Years' War, and the Napoleonic Wars. Pestilence of several kinds raged among combatants and civilians in Germany and surrounding lands from 1618 to 1648. According to Joseph Patrick Byrne, "By war's end, typhus may have killed more than 10 percent of the total German population, and disease in general accounted for 90 percent of Europe's casualties."
A major epidemic occurred in Ireland between 1816 and 1819, during the famine caused by a world-wide reduction in temperature known as the Year Without a Summer. An estimated 100,000 Irish perished. Typhus appeared again in the late 1830s, and yet another major typhus epidemic occurred during the Great Irish Famine between 1846 and 1849. The Irish typhus spread to England, where it was sometimes called "Irish fever" and was noted for its virulence. It killed people of all social classes, as lice were endemic and inescapable, but it hit particularly hard in the lower or "unwashed" social strata.
In the United States, a typhus epidemic killed the son of Franklin Pierce (14th President of the United States) in Concord, New Hampshire in 1843, and struck in Philadelphia in 1837. Several epidemics occurred in Baltimore, Memphis and Washington DC between 1865 and 1873. Typhus was also a significant killer during the US Civil War, although typhoid fever was the more prevalent cause of US Civil War "camp fever". Typhoid fever, caused by the bacterium Salmonella typhii (not to be confused with Salmonella enterica, the cause of Salmonella food poisoning), is a completely different disease from typhus.
In Canada alone, the typhus epidemic of 1847 killed more than 20,000 people from 1847 to 1848, mainly Irish immigrants in fever sheds and other forms of quarantine, who had contracted the disease aboard coffin ships.
Delousing stations were established for troops on the Western Front during World War I, but the disease ravaged the armies of the Eastern Front, with over 150,000 dying in Serbia alone. Fatalities were generally between 10 and 40% of those infected, and the disease was a major cause of death for those nursing the sick. In 1922, the typhus epidemic reached its peak, with some 25-30 million cases in Russia and 4 million cases in Poland. In Russia, during the civil war between the White and Red armies, typhus killed three million people, mainly civilians. During World War II, many German POWs after the loss at Stalingrad died of typhus. Typhus epidemics killed those confined to POW camps, ghettos and inmates in the Nazi Germany concentration camps who were held in unhygienic conditions. Pictures of typhus victims' mass graves can be seen in footage shot at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
Among thousands of prisoners in concentration camps such as Theresienstadt and Bergen-Belsen who died of typhus  were Anne Frank, at the age of 15, and her sister Margot, at the age of 19. Even larger epidemics in the postwar chaos of Europe were averted only by widespread use of the newly discovered DDT to kill the lice on millions of refugees and displaced persons.
The first typhus vaccine was developed by the Polish zoologist Rudolf Weigl in the period between the two world wars. Better, less-dangerous and less-expensive vaccines were developed during World War II. Since then, some epidemics have occurred in Eastern Europe, Asia, the Middle East and parts of Africa.
The most effective way to prevent typhus is inoculation with the typhus vaccine series before travelling to endemic areas, and to avoid contact with lice.
Without treatment, death may occur in 10 – 60 percent of patients with epidemic typhus, with patients over age 60 having the highest risk of death. Less than two percent of untreated patients with murine typhus may die. Prompt treatment with antibiotics cures most patients.
- "Typhus" at Dorland's Medical Dictionary
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- Ticks Factsheet NSW Department of Health
- Spotted Fevers Department of Medical Entomology, University of Sydney
- Ralph D. Smith, Comment, Criminal Law -- Arrest -- The Right to Resist Unlawful Arrest, 7 NAT. RESOURCES J. 119, 122 n.16 (1967) (hereinafter Comment) (citing John Howard, The State of Prisons 6–7 (1929)) (Howard's observations are from 1773 to 1775). Copied from State v. Valentine May 1997 132 Wn.2d 1, 935 P.2d 1294
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- WHO Statistical Information System (WHOSIS)
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