Typhoid outbreak – what you need to know

There has been a recent warning that South Africans could face a Typhoid outbreak after the summer holidays. Hospitals and healthcare centers have been notified to be on high alert, since the Typhoid infections that started in Zimbabwe, could spread here when holiday-goers come back after their holidays.


What is Typhoid fever?

Typhoid fever is an infection caused by a bacteria (Salmonella Typhi). It spreads easily through food and water contaminated by sewerage. You can also get it from someone who has the infection. It’s quite common in overcrowded areas with overcrowding & poor sanitation.

How do you get typhoid fever?

Typhoid is spread through the faecal-oral route. This means that the bacteria are found in the faeces (stool) of an infected person. You can get the infection from water, food or other objects that have been contaminated with the infected stool. If you eat/drink contaminated items or touch contaminated surfaces you will get the infection.

What are the symptoms?

Unless it’s treated, you can get these symptoms over a few weeks:

Week 1:

  • A step-wise fever: this means it gets higher over the day, and then drops by the morning again.
  • Headache
  • Stomach pain
  • Constipation or diarrhoea
  • Feeling tired
  • Loss of appetite
  • Rash

Week 2:

  • Fever that stays high
  • A swollen stomach
  • Very bad constipation or diarrhoea
  • Weight loss

Week 3:

The person becomes very ill and confused. If he/she isn’t treated, this is usually when the infection gets worse, and complications happen, such as bleeding into the intestines and infection of the blood.

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Week 4:

If the person has survived, their fever will start returning to normal this week.

People who recover from Typhoid can still carry the bacteria in their system, without being sick. The bacteria still spreads through their faeces, infecting others.

In 1900, there was a cook who worked in the restaurants in New York city. She infected more than 50 people during her cooking career, and was later called ‘Typhoid Mary’.

How do you get treated?

Luckily we can very successfully treat typhoid with antibiotics. If the infection is treated in time, you can be cured before life-threatening complications happen.

So how can I keep myself from becoming infected?

If you have plans to travel to a country where Typhoid is common – such as Zimbabwe – make sure that you have taken the vaccine. It should be available at your nearest travel clinic. Other than that – be sure to follow basic hygiene rules:

  • avoid ordering raw or unpeeled fruit and vegetables from restaurants
  • wash any fresh fruit and vegetables thoroughly before eating
  • make sure you wash your hands well after using the bathroom
  • wash your hands thoroughly before eating anything – even a snack

Remember: you may not be in touch with an infected person directly, but they touch many other things that you are in contact with: door handles, counters and cutlery. So be sure to wash your hands often.

Article adapted from original by Dr. Lynelle Hoeks