Battling typhoid drug-resistance

Genomic data on the global distribution of drug-resistant strains of the bacteria that cause typhoid fever may help public health officials to deploy vaccines and antimicrobials more effectively.

Graphic representing the prevalence of Ciprofloxacin-resistant S. Typhi bacteria (high levels of resistance in dark red) and countries that enabled data sharing (yellow dots). Image credit: Carey et al. (2023)

Salmonella Typhi (Typhi) is a type of bacteria that causes typhoid fever. More than 110,000 people die from this disease each year, predominantly in areas of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia with limited access to safe water and sanitation. Clinicians use antibiotics to treat typhoid fever, but scientists worry that the spread of antimicrobial-resistant Typhi could render the drugs ineffective, leading to increased typhoid fever mortality.

The World Health Organization has prequalified two vaccines that are highly effective in preventing typhoid fever and may also help limit the emergence and spread of resistant Typhi. In low resource settings, public health officials must make difficult trade-off decisions about which new vaccines to introduce into already crowded immunization schedules. Understanding the local burden of antimicrobial-resistant Typhi and how it is spreading could help inform their actions.

The Global Typhoid Genomics Consortium analyzed 13,000 Typhi genomes from 110 countries to provide a global overview of genetic diversity and antimicrobial-resistant patterns. The analysis showed great genetic diversity of the different strains between countries and regions. For example, the H58 Typhi variant, which is often drug-resistant, has spread rapidly through Asia and Eastern and Southern Africa, but is less common in other regions. However, distinct strains of other drug-resistant Typhi have emerged in other parts of the world.

Resistance to the antibiotic ciprofloxacin was widespread and accounted for over 85% of cases in South Africa. Around 70% of Typhi from Pakistan were extensively drug-resistant in 2020, but these hard-to-treat variants have not yet become established elsewhere. Variants that are resistant to both ciprofloxacin and ceftriaxone have been identified, and azithromycin resistance has also appeared in several different variants across South Asia.

The Consortium’s analyses provide valuable insights into the global distribution and transmission patterns of drug-resistant Typhi. Limited genetic data were available fromseveral regions, but data from travel-associated cases helped fill some regional gaps. These findings may help serve as a starting point for collective sharing and analyses of genetic data to inform local public health action. Funders need to provide ongoing supportto help fill global surveillance data gaps.