Volume 15, Number 6—June 2009
From Greek τīϕος [typhos], meaning heavy stupor; also related to Greek typhein, to smoke. A disease known since antiquity, typhus has been described as follows: “A kind of continued fever, attended with great prostration of the nervous and vascular systems, with a tendency to putrefaction in the fluids and vitiation in the secretions; putrid fever. A genus of the order Febres, class Pyrexia, of Cullen’s nosology” (J. Thomas, 1885).
Today, typhus refers to any of a group of acute infections caused by rickettsiae and transmitted to persons by the bite of arthropods such as fleas and lice. Epidemic typhus, caused by Rickettsia prowazekii, is characterized by headache, high fever, chills, rash, and, in serious cases, by stupor or lack of awareness of reality. Outbreaks usually occur in crowded or unsanitary environments.
Sources: Dorland’s illustrated medical dictionary, 31st ed. Philadelphia: Saunders; 2007; http://www.merriam-webster.com; Thomas J. A complete pronouncing medical dictionary. Philadelphia: JB Lippincott; 1885.