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Typhus is any of several similar diseases caused by Rickettsia bacteria. The name comes from the Greek τύφος, meaning smoky or hazy, describing the state of mind of those affected with typhus. It is transmitted to humans via external parasites such as lice, fleas, and ticks.

While "typhoid" means "typhus-like", "typhus" and "typhoid fever" are distinct diseases caused by different bacteria.

Epidemics occurred routinely throughout Europe from the 16th to the 19th centuries, including during the English Civil War, the Thirty Years' War, and the Napoleonic Wars.[1] Pestilence of several kinds raged among combatants and civilians in Germany and surrounding lands the Thirty Years' War from 1618 to 1648. According to Joseph Patrick Byrne, "By war's end, typhus may have killed more than 10 percent of the total German population, and disease in general accounted for 90 percent of Europe's casualties."[2]

During Napoleon's retreat from Moscow in 1812, more French soldiers died of typhus than were killed by the Russians.[3]

Officials initially did not know how to provide sufficient sanitation, nor understand how the disease spread.

Delousing stations were established for troops on the Western Front during World War I, but the disease ravaged the armies of the Eastern Front, with over 150,000 dying in Serbia alone. Fatalities were generally between 10 and 40 percent of those infected, and the disease was a major cause of death for those nursing the sick.

In Russia, during the Russian Civil War between the White and Red Armies, typhus killed 3 million people,[4][5] mainly civilians.

Typhus has been mostly eliminated through the development of vaccines.

Typhus and the Holocaust

See the articles on Zyklon B and Holocaust material evidence on the alleged use of the anti-lice pesticide Zyklon B for mass killings.

See Holocaust documentary evidence and the section "Photographs of heaps of corpses and emaciation" on typhus possible contributing to malnutrition, emaciation, and deaths of camp prisoner and that were used in propaganda photos framed as evidence of genocidal mass murders.

See Holocaust testimonial evidence and the section "Argued reasons for incorrect testimonies" on typhus possibly causing confusion and hallucinations, which may have contributed to incorrect testimonies.


  1. War and Pestilence. Time magazine
  2. Byrne, Joseph Patrick (2008). Encyclopedia of Pestilence, Pandemics, and Plagues: A—M. ABC-CLIO, 732. ISBN 0-313-34102-8. 
  3. The Historical Impact of Epidemic Typhus. Joseph M. Conlon.
  4. Andrew W. Artenstein. Vaccines: A Biography. Springer 2010, p. 250
  5. David G. Rempel. A Mennonite Family in Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union, 1789–1923. University of Toronto Press 2011, p. 249
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