Photo: valerierenee (flickr)
Have you ever read Jane Eyre? There is a part in the book where a typhus epidemic breaks out in the school. So, what is typhus anyway?
Typhus v. Typhoid
Jane Eyre is a Victorian book, and they really didn’t understand what typhus was either, or how it spread. They used to confuse it with typhoid, which is very different. People still confuse the two.
Typhus is caused by bacteria called Rickettsiae that spread though the bites of infected fleas and body lice, but not head lice. It causes fever, headache, and a rash.
Typhus was also known as ship fever or prison fever because it breaks out in dirty, crowded conditions where body lice can spread easily: there were terrible epidemics in the trenches and POW camps during the World Wars.
And that’s what breaks out at the school in Jane Eyre?
Maybe, maybe not. Victorians used to confuse Typhus, which is spread through body lice with Typhoid which is spread by eating food or drinking water contaminated with the Salmonella typhi, which are bacteria related to the Salmonella you might have heard causes food poisoning. Its symptoms are similar to typhus: fever, rash, headache.
So, the school in Jane Eyre could have had Typhoid instead of Typhus?
It could have had both for all we know: it was overcrowded, dirty and used water from a contaminated well.