What is typhus?

A tiny microbe, Rickettsia prowasekii, causes a devastating infectious disease called epidemic typhus.

The disease has plagued humankind for centuries and inflicts death by the thousands. The frequent occurrence of this disease among encamped armies, it was often called "war fever" or "camp fever".

During Europe's Thirty Years War (1618-1648), plague, starvation and typhus claimed about 10 million people. Sometimes the outbreak of typhus would dictate the outcome of a war.

An outbreak of typhus decimated Spanish forces in 1489 during their siege on the Moorish stronghold of Granada. The Spanish force was reduced from 25,000 to 8,000 in a single month. Because of the ravages of typhus, it was another century before the Spanish were able t drive the Moors from Spain. As recently as World War I, typhus caused several million deaths in Poland, Russia and Romania.

Continue Learning about Bacterial Infections

Is It Just a Sore Throat—or Something More Serious?
Is It Just a Sore Throat—or Something More Serious?
Before you wake up and open your eyes, you know something’s wrong. You feel like someone’s raked your throat with hot needles. Ouch. If you’ve also g...
Read More
How common is Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) infection?
Univ. of Nev. School of Medicine, Family MedicineUniv. of Nev. School of Medicine, Family Medicine
C. difficile is a germ that causes diarrhea and other intestinal problems linked to 14,000 U.S. deat...
More Answers
Why does excessive douching increase the risk of developing BV?
Excessive douching can increase the risk of  bacterial vaginosis (BV) because the healthy vaginal ec...
More Answers
What Is MRSA?
What Is MRSA?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.