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Typhoid: Dismiss it at your own peril

A boy and his sister, both pre-teens, were admitted to hospital, one in the surgical ward, the other in the medical.

The former had severe abdominal pain, vomiting and fever, and he had multiple perforations in the small intestines.

The girl had fever, dehydration, diarrhoea and was vomiting. She could not even walk. They both were diagnosed with typhoid and underwent intravenous antibiotic treatment. The boy had to undergo several operations.

Popular belief aside, typhoid fever is not around every corner. These siblings were the only ones diagnosed with typhoid at the hospital that year.

Salmonellosis (typhoid infection) is actually a severe illness that in many cases requires hospitalisation and has serious consequences like severe dehydration, perforation of the intestinal walls, bone infection, sepsis (widespread infection) and even death.

Typhoid fever is not equivalent to headache, joint and muscle aches. It is more complex than that. Salmonella typhi, the bacteria that causes typhoid fever, is spread through contaminated food, water and drinks.

From the intestines, the bacteria enter the blood and can end up in any part of the body.  A few people become carriers (they harbour the bacteria in the gall bladder and liver and continue releasing it for long.)

Symptoms include fever and chills, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, blood in stool, body rash, severe fatigue, impaired consciousness, dehydration and coughing.  Specific tests to diagnose typhoid are stool culture, stool salmonella antigen test and blood culture.

The widal test checks for the level of anti-typhoid antibodies in blood. It is not useful for diagnosis because once you’ve had exposure to the typhoid bacteria, the body forms antibodies against it, and it keeps producing them.

Treatment involves use of antibiotics, either oral or injectable, for 10 to 14 days. The main preventative measure is hygiene. The bacteria is spread through faecal contamination of food and water.

Proper hand washing, chlorination or boiling of water and proper food handling should be practised.