Typhoid - typhus

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Don't confuse these two diseases - particularly if you are working in or towards the health professions.

  • Typhoid (originally an adjective meaning 'like typhus', with which it was wrongly confused until the 19th century) is a disease caused by the bacterium Salmonella typhi, or a variant. This is commonly transmitted through water or food contaminated by faeces - in modern towns with modern drainage and water supply, the disease has effectively been eliminated. It is also called enteric fever. Typhoid is principally a disease of the digestive system, and has a mortality rate of around 10%.
Typhoid Mary was the name originally given to Mary Mallon (c. 1870-1938), and later to other similar people who have played a big part in transmitting infection. Mary Mallon worked in kitchens in New York in the first decade of the 20th century. Having recovered from typhoid herself, she was a carrier of the disease although she showed no symptoms, and having served to point out the role of the asymptomatic disease-carrier to the medical profession, she was locked up to quarantine her and keep the public safe. She died after 26 years in preventive captivity.
  • Typhus is a group of infections caused by rickettsia prowazekii or other members of the rickettsia family of bacteria, and spread by parasites such as lice and fleas. It used to be endemic in crowded conditions, and epidemic during sieges and other stressful conditions, when its mortality rate approached 100%. The disease causes a rash (it is also known as spotted fever), severe headache and prostration.