Epidemic typhus in Africa

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:1999
Authors:J. B. Ndihokubwayo, Raoult D.
Journal:Medecine Tropicale
Pagination:181 - 192
Date Published:1999
ISBN Number:0025-682X
Keywords:Africa, animals, Burundi, Diagnosis, Differential, Disease Outbreaks/statistics & numerical data, English Abstract, humans, Insect vectors, Lice/microbiology, populations, risk factors, typhus, war

Epidemic typhus is caused by a small strictly intracellular virus named Rickettsia prowazekii, a member of the Rickettsial family. It is transmitted to man by the body louse, Pediculus humanus. Although now rare in Western countries, exanthematic typhus remains common in the Southern hemisphere due to poverty, inadequate clothing hygiene, and poor socioeconomic conditions. In Africa, outbreaks have historically occurred in Burundi, Rwanda, southwest Ouganda, and Ethiopia. The largest outbreak of epidemic typhus since the World War II was reported in Burundi where ongoing civil war since October 1993 has forced 10 p. 100 of the population of Burundi to live in cold, promiscuity, and malnutrition of makeshift refugee camps. The purpose of this report based on our two-year experience working with this unfortunate population is to describe the characteristics of this disease in Africa where the epidemic form had become rare until recently. Indeed political unrest as well as numerous civil wars are now epidmiological factors favorizing outbreaks of epidemic typhus at any time. This overview also provides an opportunity to recall epidemiological, bacteriological, and clinical aspects of typhus as well as diagnosis and treatment of the disease in the context of Africa.

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