What is typhus?
Typhus is one of a number of infectious diseases produced by a group of small bacteria (bugs) known as Rickettsiae. These bacteria live naturally in a range of hosts - such as rats and dogs. People can become infected when they are bitten by infected ticks, mites, fleas, or lice which live on the bodies of these host animals.

What are the symptoms of typhus?
The incubation period (time between being infected and becoming ill) ranges from 7 to 14 days, but it can be as long as two months.

The most common symptoms include:

  • Flu like symptoms (fever, chills, headache, muscle cramps).
  • Rose coloured rash (Rose Rash) that disappears when pressure is applied to the area.
  • Glands close to the bite become swollen and painful. 

How is typhus spread?
Typhus is spread to humans when infected fleas and ticks on the bodies of rats or dogs jump to humans and feed by biting and sucking the person’s blood. Human lice can also become infected by feeding on the blood of an infected person. Spreading of infected lice between people leads to onward spread of the infection. When a person is bitten, the bacteria is injected into their blood and they become ill. Sometimes the infection may be passed on via the ticks’ droppings (poop), which may get rubbed into a skin wound. Flea and tick born typhus spreads much less easily than louse borne typhus.

How is typhus treated?
Typhus is easily treated using antibiotics.

How is typhus diagnosed?
Your doctor will arrange for you to have a blood test which will show if you have been infected or not.

Have cases of typhus been diagnosed in Ireland?
Typhus is very rarely seen in Ireland. There has only been one case reported in the last ten years.

Are people in Ireland at risk of typhus?
Typhus can be brought into Ireland by a traveller who got infected in an affected area. Person to person spread is very rare.

What countries are affected by typhus?
Typhus can be found in Southern and Eastern Europe, North and Central America, Sub-Saharan Africa and Australia.

What do I do if I’m living/working in an area where typhus is circulating?
Avoiding flea and tick bites is the best way to prevent typhus. This useful information will help to protect you against biting ticks. If you become ill you should contact your doctor who will be able to advise you.

What do I do if I am travelling to an area where typhus is circulating?
Avoiding flea and tick bites is the best way to prevent typhus when travelling. This useful information will help to protect you against biting ticks. It is important to shower regularly when travelling as this will reduce the chances of becoming infested with ticks. Insecticide sprays (bug sprays) will also help.

What do I do if I’m returning to Ireland from an area where typhus is circulating?
If you become ill when you return to Ireland, you should visit your doctor and let him/her know of your recent travel.

Further information on typhus

  • Epidemic typhus (Louse Borne, European or Classical): this is prevalent across the world and is passed by infected human lice. The rash begins on the trunk and spreads to the limbs. There are concentrated pockets to be found in mountainous areas of Africa and South America. Onset of this form of typhus tends to be slow, with a fever of 400oC being reached after several days.
  • Tick typhus: is found in southern Africa and India and is spread from cattle and wild animal ticks.
  • Scrub typhus: is spread from infected rodents and is found mainly in the Pacific islands and in southeast Asia. It has a very sudden onset. Cough is prominent and pneumonia may develop.
  • Murine typhus: This is common throughout the world and is transmitted by fleas. It is similar to epidemic typhus but tends to be milder.
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever: This is a rickettsial disease related to typhus. It is endemic in the Rocky Mountains and South eastern US. The rash begins on the feet, unlike classical typhus. The mortality for untreated RMSF is high, more than 30%.

Fuller information on typhus is available through the CDC's Yellow Book Chapter on Rickettsial Infections.
The WHO's International Travel and Health section provides information on typhus for travellers
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information on rickettsial disease including typhus and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Last updated: 16 May 2018