What is endemic typhus fever?
Endemic typhus fever is a disease caused by bacteria called Rickettsia typhi or bacteria called Rickettsia felis.
Who gets endemic typhus fever?
Endemic typhus fever occurs worldwide, most commonly among people in contact with rats or areas where rats
live. Disease also occurs among people ho live near or have contact with other small mammals (such as
opossums). The few cases reported in the U.S. are usually among people living in Texas and outhern
How is epidemic typhus fever spread?
Epidemic typhus fever is not directly spread from person-to-person. Disease is spread by human body lice infected with the bacteria that cause epidemic typhus fever. Human body lice become infected when they feed on the blood of a person with epidemic typhus fever. Infected lice then pass infectious feces when they feed. People become infected when infected lice feces or crushed infected body lice are rubbed into small cuts on the skin. It is the feces, not the bite of the louse that spreads illness to humans. The disease may also be spread when a person breathes infected dried lice feces in dust. The way that the disease is spread from flying squirrels to humans is not well understood.
Could epidemic typhus fever be used for bioterrorism?
Yes. The bacteria that cause epidemic typhus fever are considered possible bioterrorism agents because the organism can remain alive in lice feces for weeks and can be made into aerosols that, if breathed in, could cause disease.
What are the symptoms of epidemic typhus fever?
Common symptoms include fever, headache, chills, tiredness and muscle aches. About half of people who are infected develop a flat red rash that begins on the back, chest and stomach and then spreads to the rest of the body except for the face, palms and soles. Other symptoms may include vomiting, eye sensitivity to light and confusion. In severe cases, complications of illness may include kidney failure and brain inflammation (encephalitis).
How soon after exposure do symptoms appear?
Symptoms usually appear around 12 days after exposure, but may appear anywhere from 7 to 14 days after exposure.
How is epidemic typhus fever diagnosed and treated?
The diagnosis of epidemic typhus fever is based on signs and symptoms of illness, as well as laboratory blood tests. Epidemic typhus fever is treated with antibiotics. Insecticides may also be used to kill the lice. Healthcare providers choose the antibiotic based on the patient’s symptoms and the results of laboratory tests.
Is there a vaccine for epidemic typhus fever?
There is currently no commercially available vaccine for epidemic typhus fever.
Where can I get more information about epidemic typhus fever?
More information about epidemic typhus fever is available on the Virginia Department of Health website at www.vdh.virginia.gov or through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at www.cdc.gov.