For many of the world’s most dangerous diseases, we struggle to find treatment. Whether it’s vaccines or antibiotics, researchers spend years looking for some way to fight the illness.
When it comes to typhoid fever, treatment and prevention methods aren’t the problem.
There have been a couple of vaccines and treatment plans for this disease for a while now. But, an increasing resistance to different types of antibiotics is making treatment more complicated. With almost 22 million reported cases of typhoid and 200,000 related deaths worldwide every year, it’s proving much harder to fight the disease.
If left alone, this issue can lead to drug resistant typhoid fever becoming even more common than it is now.
Staying Free of Typhoid While Traveling
Travelers from the industrialized countries should take precautions before making plans to Asia, Africa, and Latin America. These areas include some of the countries with the highest risk of typhoid.
Symptoms include fever, headache, nausea, fatigue, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Spread through tainted water and food, there are very simple ways to help prevent infection. These safety tips include:
- Eating food that has been thoroughly cooked and served hot, not at room temperature
- Avoiding foods such as unwashed or unpeeled raw fruits and vegetables, unpasteurized dairy products
- Only drink filtered water and stay free of well water when possible
- Show extra caution when eating food from street vendors
Along with these steps, an improved hygiene routine can also help. Travelers should wash their hands often and utilize hand sanitizer if soap is unavailable.
The Tools to Fight Typhoid Worldwide
There is a vaccine against typhoid fever, but according to the CDC, it is “only 50%-80% effective, so you should still be careful about what you eat and drink.”
There are two vaccines that have been used for many years to prevent contracting typhoid. Although, a new vaccine with an immunity that lasts longer was recently prequalified in December 2017 by the WHO. After taking precautions, there is still a chance that you can contract typhoid fever.
And while there are antibiotics to treat the disease, there are new extensively drug-resistant variants of the disease spreading across the globe without a treatment available.
Sanitary improvements helped fight typhoid in most high-income countries by the mid-20th century. The creation of effective vaccines and antibiotics only further put an end to typhoid epidemics across many countries.
How Did Typhoid “Return” in Many Areas?
This recent return of what most consider a “cured” disease is a shock to the health care systems in developed countries. As for countries that have had to deal with typhoid all these years, the outbreaks are nothing new.
In fact, Dr. Claas Kirchhelle, of the Wellcome Unit for History of Medicine at the University of Oxford spoke about this problem. “Popular notions of typhoid as a disease of the past are a myth…For poorer countries, the spectre of typhoid has never gone away,” said Kirchhelle.
While developed countries are in shock, there could be even more cases that we’re unaware of. Under reporting, misdiagnosed cases and international surveillance gaps create an unknown typhoid problem.
For far too long the underdeveloped countries have been too accustomed to simply treating the disease as it came about, instead of focusing on the roots of the disease. It’s for this reason that we’re seeing an escalation in the number of drug resistant cases.
The typhoid problem for these countries stem from poor sanitation and a lack of vaccines. Rather than trying to fix these problem with vaccination campaigns, the countries are opting for short term fixes. Local governments have instead been pushing antibiotics on its citizens as a cure for the disease.
While it’s good that there is an available treatment, we are now seeing a surge in variants of typhoid that are drug resistant. The people infected with the disease are then left without any treatment options.
The Rise of Drug Resistant Typhoid
Recently there have been cases reported in unusual places such as India, Iraq, the UK, and Germany with drug resistant strains popping up through the African continent.
How can this old disease be traveling across the globe? Some of these drug-resistant variants are travel related.
In fact, in 1988 there was an outbreak reported in Kashmir that “proved resistant to all three first-line antibiotics.” Similar outbreaks then followed in Shanghai, Mekong Delta, and Pakistan.
While the disease’s history and current research show that, “there is no universal roadmap for typhoid control,” it’s important to consider the steps of developed countries. Improved sanitation efforts and widely-available vaccines have helped keep the disease at bay.
With the continuation of research and testing, we’re able to continue working toward better prevention, better diagnoses, and better treatment plans to avoid repeating history.
Written for Passport Health by Brianna Malotke. Brianna is a freelance writer and costume designer located in Illinois. She’s an avid coffee drinker and enjoys researching new topics for writing.