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Chapter 6 : Typhus, a Fever Plague
Typhus fever is sometimes called “war fever” because frequently it is a companion to hostilities. During wartime, individuals are subjected to increased stress, they become more susceptible to new diseases, and endemic diseases may become more severe. Today, there is usually little in the way of epidemic disease in the industrialized countries of the world because of improvements in hygiene, but elsewhere typhus can and does surface, especially in places where there is war, famine, and poverty. The infected peasants served as a source of infection, and their lice were effective vectors. Typhus is not the same as typhoid fever, which is a water-borne disease caused by a bacillus, Salmonella. Today we know the causative agent of typhus to be Rickettsia prowazekii, related to R. rickettsii, the organism that produces Rocky Mountain spotted fever. It is human lice—including the body louse Pediculus humanus corporis and the head louse Pediculus humanus capitis, as well as the crab louse Phthirus pubis—that are involved in rickettsial transmission of typhus from human to human by means of fecal contamination of the bite wound. Typhus is not dead. It will live on for centuries, and it will continue to break into the open whenever human stupidity and brutality give it a chance, as most likely they occasionally will. But its freedom of action is being restricted and more and more it will be confined, like other savage creatures, in the zoological gardens of controlled diseases.