Head lice

Updated 13 July 2016

Contracting typhus from lice

Typhus, until a few decades ago, killed thousands of people, often those living in crowded and unhygienic conditions such as trenches, prisons or ships.


Here are some quick facts on epidemic typhus,  that should make you very grateful that you didn’t live a century ago:

Read: How to comb out head lice 

- Epidemic typhus is spread by the bacteria Rickettsia prowazekii that are found in lice.

- Inhalation of this bacteria can also cause typhus.

- There is a 5–14 day incubation period, which is why people often only develop symptoms of this disease when they return from holiday.

- Epidemic typhus is more prevalent in the winter months, especially if people do not launder their possibly infested clothing as often.

- Typhus often breaks out in areas where there has been a war on natural disasters, or areas that are impoverished or contain many homeless people.

Read: Everything you need to know about head lice 

- Symptoms of this disease include chills, confusion, a cough, high fever, joint pain, sensitive eyes, a rash and a severe headache.

- Blood tests for typhus may show a high level of typhus antibodies, a low sodium level and a low level of albumin

- Typhus can be treated with antibiotics such as doxycycline and tetracycline.

- Tetracycline can stain teeth that are still forming, so is almost never given to young children.

- If there is no effective treatment available (as in the trenches of WW1) the death rate can be between 10 – 60%.

Read: 20 head lice myths debunked 

- Patients over 60 have the highest risk of death.

- Possible complications of typhus can include kidney problems, pneumonia and central nervous system damage.

- Good sanitation and public health measures can reduce the rat population, which in turn reduces the number of fleas and lice.

- Typhus can be largely prevented by avoiding areas where sanitation is poor, by not wearing infected clothing for at least 5 days (lice cannot survive this long without feeding on blood) and using insecticides to prevent being bitten.

(Sources: National Institutes of Health, healthline.com, medicine.net)

Read more: 

Love taking selfies? It may spread head lice  

 Causes of head lice  

Wet combing best for spotting lice


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