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Concurrent malaria and typhoid fever in the tropics: the diagnostic challenges and public health implications


C.J. Uneke

Background & objectives: Malaria and typhoid fever still remain diseases of major public health im-portance in the tropics. Individuals in areas endemic for both the diseases are at substantial risk of con-tracting both these diseases, either concurrently or an acute infection superimposed on a chronic one. The objective of this report was to systematically review scientific data from studies conducted in the tropics on concurrent malaria and typhoid fever within the last two decades (1987–2007), to highlight the diagnostic challenges and the public health implications. Using the MedLine Entrez-PubMed search, relevant publications were identified for the re-view via the key words Malaria and Typhoid fever, which yielded 287 entries as of January 2008. Most of the studies reviewed expressed concern that poor diagnosis continues to hinder effective control of concurrent malaria and typhoid fever in the tropics due to: non-specific clinical pre-sentation of the diseases; high prevalence of asymptomatic infections; lack of resources and insuffi-cient access to trained health care providers and facilities; and widespread practice of self-treatment for clinically suspected malaria or typhoid fever. There were considerably higher rates of concurrent malaria and typhoid fever by Widal test compared to the bacteriological culture technique. Although culture technique remains the gold standard in typhoid fever diagnosis, Widal test is still of significant diagnostic value provided judicious interpretation of the test is made against a background of pertinent information. Malaria could be controlled through interventions to minimize human-vector contact, while improved personal hygiene, targeted vaccination campaigns and intensive community health education could help to control typhoid fever in the tropics.

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