ASK A DOC: How can one prevent the spread of typhoid fever?

By: DR TOROOTI MWIRIGI

Typhoid fever is an infection of the intestinal tract and blood caused by a type of bacteria called Salmonella Typhi that lives in humans.

Most cases occur in people who reside in areas where typhoid fever is endemic. People who travel to areas where typhoid fever is endemic can easily contract the bacteria and pass it on to other people via fecal-oral route.

There are vaccines available but these are especially reserved for persons travelling to typhoid-endemic areas and persons who may be exposed to the illness.

It is important to get prompt treatment for typhoid fever to avoid complications some of which may be life-threatening.

Dear doc,

In what ways can a person get typhoid fever?

Jayden

Dear Jayden,

Typhoid fever is usually contracted through eating or drinking food or water that is already contaminated by Salmonella Typhi bacterium. A person who has an acute infection can contaminate food if they handle it or the neighbouring water supply with their stool, which is highly concentrated with the bacteria.

This is a big threat in areas where there are no latrines or the sanitation is poor. When the water supply is contaminated, it can consequently contaminate the food supply for example vegetables grown near such water supplies.

Salmonella Typhi can survive for several weeks in dried sewerage or water.

A small percentage of people continue to harbour Salmonella Typhi in the gall bladders or intestinal tracts for many years even after being treated with antibiotics.

These kinds of people become carriers for a long time although they do not have any symptoms, and thus they can have new outbreaks of typhoid fever after several years.

They can also shed the bacteria in their stools and infect other people.

Dear doc,

I have been on treatment for typhoid fever for three days now and I no longer feel the symptoms. Does this mean I am out of danger?

Santos

Dear Santos,

Although your symptoms may seem to have disappeared, chances are that the Salmonella Typhi is still in your body. If this is the case, the illness can recur or you can transmit the bacteria to people around.

It is important that while on treatment for typhoid fever you refrain from handling food until the doctor establishes that you no longer carry the bacteria.

Therefore, there are certain important things a person should observe while on treatment for typhoid fever.

Take your antibiotics as prescribed by the doctor and do not stop even if you no longer have symptoms, always wash your hands thoroughly after visiting the toilet and avoid handling food to lower the risk of infecting another person.

You may also need to undergo a series of tests to make sure that there are no traces of Salmonella Typhi in your body.

Dear doc,

One of my family members recently had typhoid and I am afraid I might also get infected. How would I know if I have the illness and can I just take antibiotics if I suspect to have typhoid?

M

Dear M,

A person with typhoid infection may not present noticeable symptoms or they may be mild or serious. When symptoms are there they may include; headaches, high fever (39°C to 40°C), abdominal pain, body weakness, diarrhoea or constipation, or loss of appetite. Some people may also develop a skin rash.

However, even if you notice one or more of these symptoms, it is not advisable to take medication without doctor’s authorisation.

After all there are other conditions that present with similar symptoms. Thus, the only sure way to know you have typhoid is by having blood or stool test to check for the presence of Salmonella Typhi.

If the doctor establishes the bacterium is present, then he or she will prescribe antibiotics for you.

Dear doc,

What can I do to protect myself from typhoid fever when I travel to places where typhoid is common? Can I take antibiotics as a protective measure?

Mr V

Dear Mr V,

It is very important to be careful about what you eat and drink when you travel Ensure that the foods you eat have been thoroughly cooked, are still hot and steaming.

Do not eat fruits or raw vegetables that cannot be peeled. Vegetables like cabbage get contaminated easily and can be difficult to wash properly.

If you eat vegetables or fruits that can be peeled, make sure to peel them yourself with clean hands and do not consume the peelings.

Avoid drinks and foods from road-side vendors as such foods can get easily contaminated. Boil water before you drink it or alternatively buy bottled carbonated drinking water.

Avoid ices as they may have been made using water that is contaminated.

You may also consider talking to a doctor about getting a typhoid vaccine if you plan to travel. Ensure to complete the vaccination before travelling for it to be effective.

Remember, antibiotics only help treat the typhoid fever and not prevent it. Thus taking antibiotics before you travel does not offer protection against Salmonella Typhi.

Send your health questions to nation@askadoc.co.ke

SOURCE: DAILY NATION