Typhoid fever has been out of the headlines in recent times. This very infectious disease, which at one point in the 1800’s was considered a death sentence, but in modern times can be easily treated with antibiotics, with only 20 percent of cases leading to death. However, in the last 25 to 30 years a new “superbug” called H58 has become very dominant. This strain of typhoid fever, also called enteric fever, carries with it most of the same symptoms, which includes nausea, vomiting, fever, abdominal pain, and red spots on the chest. Much like the less lethal counterpart, this strain can be contracted in much the same way, by ingesting contaminated material or drinking contaminated liquids. The main difference is that the H58 strain has been proven to resist many antibiotics.
The research on this particular strain of typhoid fever, which has involved over 74 scientists and has spanned over two dozen countries, has been one of the most comprehensive studies on an infectious agent. Scientists are worried, and have deemed the strain an “ever-increasing health threat.”
In over 1800 samples collected, the H58 strain of typhoid fever has been found to have an increased resistance to antibiotics. The samples were found to mutate so that the strain became resistant to the antibiotic being introduced. This is both fascinating and terrifying, and could be the start of a new strain of typhoid fever that could recreate the killer epidemic of the 1800’s. More research may need to be conducted in order to find a way to combat this resistance and mutations to today’s antibiotics.
Americans have a huge advantage in that they have access to clean water and clean food supplies. This, accompanied with proper preventive antibiotics, have helped to keep America fever-free. In the poorer Countries of Africa, the citizens are not so lucky. Citizens there have no choice but to drink contaminated waters or food and proper vaccines are a luxury. Coincidentally, Africa is one of the areas in which the H58 strain has had positive results from this extensive testing. Africa could become the starting point of a worldwide epidemic if the issues of food and water are not addressed.
This strain has displaced longer-standing strains, like the one from the 1800’s, which have endured for decades – even centuries. Yet, these new strains which have terrifying and fascinating mutagen properties, are rapidly becoming more prominent. Testing has shown that when one type of antibiotics is introduced the H58 virus did have a reaction, but in the next and all following tests after that. The strain showed resistance. This has been true with even newer drugs, causing this strain to quickly become a major concern for many scientists. Kathryn Holt, a scientist at the University of Melbourne in Australia has been a scientist to study the H58 virus. Holt was quoted as saying “the multiple antibiotic resistant typhoid is here to stay”
Americans who travel to areas like Fiji, West Asia, Southeast Asia, and especially Africa should receive vaccinations before departing the United States, and make sure they bring their own water and food supplies to keep them as safe as possible. Also, once they return to the states, they should be monitored for fever for several weeks after their return. If a fever or any of the other symptoms become present, the patient should go to the doctor immediately. The new epidemic, H58, may only be a headline here in America, but it is real in areas like Africa. Travelers should be cautious, and take every precaution, as the epidemic could easily spread to the United States upon their return.
By Sherry Raymond
Reuters: Drug-Resistant ‘superbug’
The Week: Typhoid Fever
CBS News: Typhoid Fever
Photo Courtesy of Sanfoi Pasteur’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License