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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Typhoid Mary

Written by Anthony
Have you heard of Mary Mallon (September 23, 1869 – November 11, 1938)? Perhaps not. How about Typhoid Mary? Now, you've heard.

Mary Mallon, is actually popularly known as Typhoid Mary, and was the first person in the United States to be identified as a healthy carrier of typhoid fever. Meaning, she does not show or suffer symptoms of the disease but had the disease along with her. This makes her deadly since she could transmit the disease to susceptible hosts. Mary claimed that she did not suffer typhoid fever her entire life, however, over the course of her career as a cook, she infected 47 people, three of whom died from the disease. Some believed that she was born with the disease, as her mother had typhoid fever during her pregnancy.

It was Soper who first came to believed that Mary Mallon was the cause of typhoid fever in the households where she had worked. Soper was able to trace Mallon's employment history back to 1900. He found that typhoid outbreaks had followed Mallon from job to job. From 1900 to 1907, Soper found that Mallon had worked at seven jobs in which 22 people had become ill, including one young girl, who died with typhoid fever shortly after Mallon had come to work for them.

Soper was satisfied that this was much more than just a coincidence; yet, he needed stool and blood samples from Mallon to scientifically prove that she was indeed the carrier.

Mary vehemently denied her own role in causing the disease and refused to give the required samples. After realizing that it was going to take more than persuasiveness to make Mallon participate, Soper handed his research and hypothesis over to Hermann Biggs at the New York City Health Department. Biggs agreed with Soper's hypothesis, and had sent Dr. S. Josephine Baker to talk to Mallon.

Mallon, now extremely suspicious of these health officials, refused to listen to Baker. Thus, Mallon was forcibly taken.

Mallon was taken to the Willard Parker Hospital in New York. There, samples were taken and examined; typhoid bacilli was found in her stool.

After confirming that she was indeed a carrier, the health department, without undergoing any trial, transferred Mallon to an isolated cottage (part of the Riverside Hospital) on North Brother Island (in the East River near the Bronx), where she stayed there for three years.

Mary Mallon believed that she was unfairly persecuted, however, the health officials were basing their power on Sections 1169 and 1170 of the Greater New York Charter that allows the board of health to use all reasonable means for ascertaining the existence and cause of disease or peril to life or health, and for averting the same throughout the city [Section 1169], and that the said board may remove or cause to be removed to a proper place to be by it designated, any person sick with any contagious, pestilential or infectious disease; shall have exclusive charge and control of the hospitals for the treatment of such cases [Section 1170].

During Mallon's confinement, health officials had taken and analyzed stool samples from Mallon approximately once a week. The samples came back intermittently positive with typhoid, but mostly positive (120 of 163 samples tested positive). For nearly a year preceding the trial, Mallon also sent samples of her stool to a private lab where all her samples tested negative for typhoid. Feeling healthy and with her own lab results, Mallon believed she was being unfairly held. The public had also sympathized with Mallon. The growing sympathy of the public had eventually lead to the released of Mallon, but with the condition that she should never ever work as a cook, and that she would give assurance by affidavit that she would, upon her release, take such hygienic precautions as will to protect those with whom she comes in contact from infection. Mallon agreed, thus, she was set free.

At first, Mallon tried to be a laundress as well as worked at other jobs, however, feeling healthy, Mallon still did not really believe that she could spread typhoid, thus, she eventually went back to working as a cook, and adapted a pseudonym as "Mary Brown."

In January 1915 (nearly five years after Mallon's release), the Sloane Maternity Hospital in Manhattan suffered a typhoid fever outbreak. Twenty-five people became ill and two of them died.

Soon, evidence pointed to a recently-hired cook, Mrs. Brown, who was really Mary Mallon.

The sympathy showed by the public during her first period of confinement disappeared, and she was once again captured.

Mallon was again sent to North Brother Island to live in the same isolated cottage that she had inhabited during her last confinement. She was once again confined, this time, for life!

The exact life she led on the island is unclear, but it is known that she helped around the hospital, gaining the title "nurse" in 1922 and then "hospital helper" sometime later. In 1925, Mallon began to help in the hospital's lab.

In December 1932, Mary Mallon suffered a stroke that left her paralyzed. She was transferred from her cottage to a bed in the children's ward of the hospital in that island, where she stayed there for six years.

On November 11, 1938, Mary Mallon a.k.a. Typhoid Mary died at the age of 69 due to pneumonia. However, an autopsy found evidence of live typhoid bacteria in her gallbladder. Her body was cremated with burial in Saint Raymond's Cemetery in the Bronx.

Since Mary Mallon's death, the name "Typhoid Mary" has grown into a term disassociated from the person. People with a contagious illness can be termed, sometimes jokingly, a "Typhoid Mary." If someone changes their jobs frequently, they are sometimes referred to as a "Typhoid Mary."

Some people believed that Mary Mallon changes her job frequently because she knew she was guilty, but most probably, it was because domestic jobs during her time were not long lasting service jobs.

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