Typhoid fever is caused by a bacterium (germ) called Salmonella typhi. This bacterium may contaminate food or drink in areas of poor sanitation. Typhoid ranges from being a mild illness to causing death. Symptoms include sudden onset of fever, severe headache, nausea, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, constipation or diarrhoea. These symptoms can be very severe.
(Note: there are many types of Salmonella bacteria. Most types remain in the gut and cause diarrhoea, often as part of 'food poisoning'. The type called Salmonella typhi can get from the gut into other parts of the body and causes the more serious illness of typhoid fever.)
People with typhoid fever pass out the bacteria with their faeces (motions). Even when symptoms have gone, about 1 in 10 people who have had typhoid fever remain 'carriers'. This means that some bacteria continue to live inside the gut and you continue to pass out bacteria with your faeces. If hygiene is not good, then the bacteria can be passed to others who may then get typhoid fever. About half of carriers become free of the typhoid bacteria within three months, but up to half of carriers continue to pass out typhoid bacteria with their faeces long-term.
The incubation period for the disease is usually 1-3 weeks. So, you do not get symptoms for 1-3 weeks after becoming infected. Typhoid infection can be successfully treated with antibiotics.
Who should be immunised against typhoid?
Travellers to areas where typhoid is a problem should be immunised and particularly where hygiene and sanitation are poor. The worst affected areas are Asia, Africa, Central and South America. Immunisation may not be needed for short stays to some affected countries if you stay in good accommodation (including most 'package holidays'). Your GP or practice nurse can advise if you should be immunised against typhoid for your travel destination.