Typhoid fever hits Call the Midwife – but what exactly is typhoid?

How do you catch it, what are the symptoms, how dangerous is it and is there a cure?


On this week’s Call the Midwife, a new mum contracted typhoid while an epidemic of the disease threatened to break out thanks to cramped conditions in tenement buildings. But what exactly is typhoid, how do you catch it, how dangerous is it and is there a cure?


What is it?

Typhoid, also known as typhoid fever, is an infection caused by the bacterium Salmonella typhi. 

What are the symptoms?

A high fever develops over a period of several days, followed by other symptoms including abdominal pain, constipation, headaches and general weakness and lethargy while some sufferers develop a reddish skin rash.

How long does it last?

Without treatment, typhoid can last weeks or even months.

How do you catch it?

Typhoid is usually the result of poor hygiene habits, such as failing to wash your hands after using the toilet, or of general poor public sanitation conditions, which is why it can occur in less developed countries or in conditions of poverty or overcrowding. It can sometimes also be caught from flying insects that have fed on faeces.

Is it fatal?

Not generally but, if untreated, typhoid is fatal in approximately 25% of cases. Famous victims of the disease include Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert, who died from typhoid aged just 42.

How do you treat typhoid?

Good sanitation, regular hand washing and a hygienic approach to food preparation are effectively preventatives when it comes to typhoid. There are also two vaccination options – one oral, one injectable – available for travellers heading abroad to areas that might be affected by the disease. 


For those infected by typhoid, a number of anti-bacterial drugs can be used to treat it.