Typhoid fever is a serious, potentially fatal disease caused by a bacterium called Salmonella typhi.

In New Zealand there are very few cases of typhoid fever and the majority of cases are contracted overseas. The disease is contracted by eating food or drinking water that is contaminated with faeces or urine from a person who has the illness or who may be a carrier of the bacteria. Untreated water supplies, or shellfish gathered from areas where water is contaminated are also potential sources of infection.

Symptoms

Typhoid infection usually begins with a fever occurring up to 60 days after infection. If the infection gets into the bloodstream it can cause an illness with fever, headache, cough and possibly a rash. The fever may last a week or more. Gastro-intestinal symptoms may not occur until 2-3 weeks into the illness and include abdominal pain, constipation and diarrhoea.

If you develop symptoms of typhoid fever see your doctor immediately, or contact Healthline: 0800 611 116

Diagnosis and treatment

The best way to diagnose typhoid is with a blood test. A faeces test is another diagnostic measure.

Hospital admission is common for people who are confirmed to have typhoid. Antibiotics are recommended for patients who are very unwell, to treat a fever or persistent diarrhoea and may be used for those who are employed in high risk occupations such as food handling, early childhood services or health care, or children attending day care. Sometimes a relapse after treatment may occur and the patient will need to see their GP again.

Prevention

  • Wash and dry hands thoroughly after using the toilet or changing nappies. Hands should be washed for 20 seconds and dried for a further 20 seconds using a clean cloth or disposable towel. 
  • Soiled clothing and linen should be washed with hot soapy water separately from that of other family members. Items such as face cloths and towels should be kept for personal use. 
  • A person with typhoid infection should avoid preparing food for others in the family until they are no longer infectious. 
  • In households where a person is recovering from typhoid, toilet seats, flush handles, wash taps and toilet door handles should be disinfected daily using a hypochlorite based solution. Ideally the solution should be in contact with the surface of the object for at least ½ an hour. 
  • Patients who work as food handlers, in childcare or healthcare or who are children, may be required to stay at home until they have been cleared by Public Health, of carrying Salmonella typhi.