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Murine typhus is an acute febrile, flea-borne disease caused by the bacteria Rickettsia typhi. The disease occurs worldwide but is likely underrecognized due to its non-specific symptoms, causing significant morbidity. A systematic review found disease complications in one-fourth of all patients and a long fever duration in those untreated. Although mortality in treated cases is estimated to be very low, some case series have shown a notably higher mortality in untreated patients. This study aimed to describe the outcomes and estimate the mortality of untreated murine typhus through a comprehensive systematic literature review. We systematically searched the literature for articles describing untreated murine typhus patients, excluding cases with no laboratory assay confirmed diagnosis, those who received efficacious treatment, had incomplete information on primary outcome and articles describing less than 10 patients and performed a narrative synthesis of the study findings. The study protocol followed the PRISMA guidelines and was part of a more extensive protocol registered at PROSPERO (CRD42018101991). Twelve studies including a total of 239 untreated patients matched the eligibility criteria. Only a single study reported one death in 28 patients, giving a patient series mortality of 3.6% and an overall mortality of 0.4% in 239 untreated patients. Complications were reported in 10 of the 12 studies and included involvement of the central nervous system, kidney and lung, with a hospitalisation rate of 70% and ICU admission rate of 27% in one study. The mean duration of fever in untreated patients was 15 days in two and 12.7 days in one study. Although the untreated mortality in this study was low, the sample size was small. Murine typhus caused significant morbidity when untreated, leading to high hospitalisation rates and highlighting the importance of early diagnosis and treatment of this neglected disease to reduce disease burden and health-care related costs.

Original publication





PLoS neglected tropical diseases

Publication Date





Lao-Oxford-Mahosot Hospital-Wellcome Trust Research Unit (LOMWRU), Microbiology Laboratory, Mahosot Hospital, Vientiane, Lao PDR.


Humans, Rickettsia typhi, Typhus, Endemic Flea-Borne, Fever, Treatment Outcome, Hospitalization, Mortality, Databases, Factual