What is Epidemic Typhus or Brill-Zinsser Disease and How is it Transmitted?

Epidemic Typhus or Brill-Zinsser Disease is also known by various other names like Camp Fever, Hospital Fever, Famine Fever, to name just a few is a form of typhus which causes epidemic after a natural disaster or a war where a lot of lives are lost. The main offending organism which causes Epidemic Typhus or Brill-Zinsser Disease is Rickettsia Prowazekii which is transmitted to a human by a human body louse feeding on a dead body which carries this bacterium and infects the louse. This bacterium then grows in the stomach of the louse and is excreted through the feces. If this louse bites a normal human being and the person scratches it then the bacterium spreads to that person and this is how Epidemic Typhus or Brill-Zinsser Disease spreads. This bacterium starts causing symptoms of Epidemic Typhus or Brill-Zinsser Disease within a two week period. This bacterium may stay alive and kicking for many days even in dried feces of the louse. Ultimately this bacterium kills the louse but not before the disease (Epidemic Typhus or Brill-Zinsser Disease) is spread to other human beings.

Epidemic Typhus or Brill-Zinsser Disease

As stated, Epidemic Typhus or Brill-Zinsser Disease is rampant only during the times of war or a natural disaster like an earthquake of catastrophic proportions where a lot of lives are lost. History states that Epidemic Typhus or Brill-Zinsser Disease killed hundreds and thousands of people during the Second World War in Germany. In today's world conditions where this bacterium can thrive upon are refugee camps.

What are the Symptoms of Epidemic Typhus or Brill-Zinsser Disease?

The symptoms of Epidemic Typhus or Brill-Zinsser Disease include severe headache, persistent high fever, severe cough, rashes, excruciating muscle pain, chills, hypotension, photosensitivity, delirium and ultimately death. The rash usually erupts on the chest about five to seven days after the onset of fever which then spreads to other parts of the body including the trunk and the extremities but the most classic feature of Epidemic Typhus or Brill-Zinsser Disease is fever of above 102 degree Fahrenheit.

How is Epidemic Typhus or Brill-Zinsser Disease Diagnosed?

The symptoms explained above usually which is seen after a natural disaster are good enough to point to Epidemic Typhus or Brill-Zinsser Disease. Apart from this, if a blood test is conducted then the Rickettsiae bacterium can be found in the endothelial cells which line the blood vessels. The vessels affected commonly are those of the brain, lungs, skin, and heart.

How is Epidemic Typhus or Brill-Zinsser Disease Treated?

The frontline treatment for Epidemic Typhus or Brill-Zinsser Disease is an extensive course of antibiotics to kill the bacteria. To begin with the patient will be stabilized by administration of intravenous fluids and oxygen. After the patient is stabilized then the treatment with antibiotics is started. If treatment for Epidemic Typhus or Brill-Zinsser Disease is not started early enough then mortality rate increases to 60% although if drugs like tetracycline is started even eight days after the onset of symptoms the mortality rate comes down close to 0%. Chloramphenicol is another medication that is used for treatment of Epidemic Typhus or Brill-Zinsser Disease. This disease is definitely preventable if vaccinations are given promptly after a natural disaster or in a war torn area, or in a refugee camp.

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD, FFARCSI

Last Modified On: March 30, 2016

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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