Typhus

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Typhus is any of several similar diseases caused by Rickettsiae.[1] The name comes from the Greek typhos (τῦφος) meaning smoky or hazy, describing the state of mind of those affected with typhus. The causative organism Rickettsia is an obligate parasite and cannot survive for long outside living cells. Typhus should not be confused with typhoid fever, as the diseases are unrelated.

Multiple diseases include the word "typhus" in their description. Types include:

Contents

Symptoms

Murine typhus

  • Abdominal pain
  • Backache
  • Dull red rash that begins on the middle of the body and spreads
  • Extremely high fever (105-106 °F, i.e. 41 °C)
  • Hacking, dry cough
  • Headache
  • Joint pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Epidemic typhus

  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Delirium
  • High fever (40 degrees Celsius - 104 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Joint pain
  • Low blood pressure
  • Rash
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Severe headache
  • Severe muscle pain
  • Stupor

In human history

The first reliable description of the disease appears during the Spanish siege of Moorish Granada in 1489. These accounts include descriptions of fever and red spots over arms, back and chest, progressing to delirium, gangrenous sores, and the stink of rotting flesh. During the siege, the Spaniards lost 3,000 men to enemy action but an additional 17,000 died of typhus.

Typhus was also common in prisons (and in crowded conditions where lice spread easily), where it was known as gaol fever or jail fever, and often occurs when prisoners are frequently huddled together in dark, filthy rooms. Thus, "Imprisonment until the next term of court" was often equivalent to a death sentence. It was so infectious that prisoners brought before the court sometimes infected the court itself. Following the Assize held at Oxford in 1577, later deemed the Black Assize, over 300 died from Epidemic typhus, including Sir Robert Bell Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer. During the Lent Assize Court held at Taunton (1730) typhus caused the death of the Lord Chief Baron, as well as the High Sheriff, the sergeant, and hundreds of others. During a time when there were 241 capital offenses- more prisoners died from 'gaol fever' than were put to death by all the public executioners in the British realm. In 1759, an English authority estimated that each year a quarter of the prisoners had died from Gaol fever.[3] In London, typhus frequently broke out among the ill-kept prisoners of Newgate Gaol and then moved into the general city population.

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