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Epidemic typhus, or gaol fever, is the most severe form of the group of diseases that fall under the major heading of Typhus. The disease is caused by the bacteria Rickettsia prowazekii and is transmitted in the feces of the human body louse.



Symptoms of epidemic typhus usually set in within 12 days after infection and include high fever (can reach 102°F/39°C), severe headache, muscle pain, chills, abnormally low blood pressure (hypotension), stupor, light sensitivity (photophobia), and delirium. In at least 50% of cases, a rash appears on the patient's chest five days after the fever begins, and will spead to the rest of the body, excluding the palms, soles, and face. The fever usually lasts two weeks. Serious cases can result in vascular collapse, kidney failure, severe bruising and gangrene, encephalitis, or pneumonia. Fatality rates without antibiotic treatment average from 10 to 40%, with the likelihood of mortality increasing with age.


This form of the disease is called gaol fever, ship fever, and hospital fever due to its appearance in crowded conditions with insufficient hygiene that allow the lice to multiply and bite numerous victims. The disease also commonly appears after major natural disasters and war.

In the Canon

SPOILER WARNING:  Plot or ending details for "Desolation Island"  follow.

The crew of HMS Leopard in Desolation Island were severely affected by an outbreak of gaol fever, probably brought aboard by the transportees being carried to Australia. Many of the crew and prisoners died and others had to be left in a Brazilian port as they were too sick to continue the voyage.

See also


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