Murine Typhus, also known as Endemic Typhus, is caused by Rickettsia typhi bacteria. This rickettsial infection is a zoonosis – an animal disease that can spread to humans – transmitted by fleas primarily affecting rats, mice, possums, and skunks, as well as cats and dogs. Humans become ill when they are bitten by infected fleas that shed the bacteria through their excrement. When scratching the bite area, the feces are rubbed into the wound and the bacteria enter the bloodstream.
The bacteria is present worldwide, but is primarily found in tropical and subtropical coastal regions, in areas with poor sanitation, or where humans come into close proximity to rodents. Murine Typhus is endemic in Mediterranean countries, some African, Central American, and South American countries, some coastal states in the USA, and southeast Asia. Travellers who are occupationally exposed to rodents such as naturalists, geologists, agricultural workers are at greater risk of getting bitten by fleas. Outbreaks typically occur during warmer periods of the year.
Usually symptoms appear 6 to 14 days after exposure and include fever, headache, chills, muscle pain, lack of appetite, and a skin rash. More severe symptoms include a cough, eye infection, and jaundice. If untreated, the infection can affect the Central Nervous System causing confusion, seizures, and lethargy. Multi-organ failure can also occur, including hemorrhaging and shock. Fatality rates are low. Murine Typhus is often an underdiagnosed illness. It is treated with antibiotics and supportive care of symptoms.
There is no preventive medication or vaccine against Murine Typhus.
Rickettsia typhi bacteria images, life cycle, and distribution maps:
Information last updated: January 2020