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Typhus Symptoms and Causes

Rash in a man with epidemic typhus in Burundi.

The name “typhus” comes from the Greek typhos (τῦφος)meaning smoky or hazy, describing the state of mind of those affected with typhus. Typhus should not be confused with typhoid fever, as the diseases are unrelated.


Sudden onset of chills, high fever, prostration, and general pains. The patient is excited, mentally alert, and has a flushed face and bloodshot eyes.

Delirium frequently occurs early. Small pink spots on neck, chest, abdomen, and limbs appear about the fifth day. They change from pink to red, then to purple, and finally turn brownish. Heavy bronchitis, with cough and sputum. Pulse is rapid; but blood pressure is low.

In its early stages, typhus is like Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever; but the home treatment for both is essentially the same.


Typhus is a disease caused by a group of bacteria called Rickettsia. Three forms of typhus are recognized:

  1. Epidemic typhus, a serious disease that is fatal if not treated promptly;
  2. Rat-flea or endemic typhus, a milder form of the disease; and
  3. Scrub typhus, another fatal form.

The Rickettsia species of bacteria that cause all three forms of typhus are transmitted by insects. The bacteria that cause epidemic typhus, for instance, are transmitted by the human body louse; the bacteria that cause endemic typhus are transmitted by the Oriental rat flea; and bacteria causing scrub typhus are transmitted by chiggers.

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