Saturday, August 3, 2013

Typhoid Mary (#70)


Mary Mallon was born on September 23rd, 1869 in Cookstown, County Tyrone in what is now Northern Ireland. Malon was what is known as an asymptomatic carrier of the pathogen which causes typhoid fever. Most likely, she was a survivor of a previous episode of typhoid fever, yet she did not get rid of the associated bacteria, known as Salmonella typhi. This meant that she could spread the disease through contact with food and water

Cooking and Investigation

Mallon moved to the United States in 1884. In 1900, she became a cook in the Mamaroneck, New York. Within two weeks of her employment, residents of the town had developed typhoid fever. In 1901, she moved to Manhattan in 1901 to work for a family, eventually all the family members for whom she worked with developed fevers and diarrhea. The laundress of the household died of the fever. Soon afterwards, Mallon went to work for a lawyer, and during this time, seven of the eight family members developed typhoid. In 1906, Mallon worked under four different families, and each family suffered from typohoid fever.

In the winter of 1906, a family hired a typhoid researcher named George Soper. He discovered that a cook was hired just weeks before the outbreak, and several weeks afterwards, she left. Soper believed there to be a connection to the cook, and when he discovered she was an single Irish woman of about forty, he was able to track Mallon to a recent outbreak of typhoid fever near a Park Avenue Penthouse. When Soper approached her, she refused to give urine and stool samples. Soper began a study on Mallon's previous work history, finding that Mallon had worked for no less than eight families that had an outbreak of typhoid fever during the same time period. 


After Soper's research went out, the New York City Health Department sent Dr. Sara Baker to talk to Mallon. Mallon refused to go with Baker because she believed that she was being persecuted when she had done nothing wrong. Baker went back to Mallon several days later, this time with police officers, who took Mallon into custody. Mary attracted so much publicity, she became known as Typhoid Mary. 

When questioned, Mary said she rarely washed her hands when cooking, saying there was no need. Urine samples taken from Mallon showed that her gallbladder carried large amounts of typhoid salmonella. Mallon, however, refused to have her gallbladder extracted or give up her occupation, maintaining that she did not carry the disease at all.  Mallon was held in isolation for three years before being released by Dr. Eugene H. Porter, who said it was wrong to isolate disease carriers. She was, however, released on the promise that she would not return to her job as a cook.

Mallon was given a job as a laundress, but it paid less than cooking. Soon, Mallon decided to return to being a cook, but to avoid notice of both the public and the authorities, she changed her name to Mary Brown. For five more years, she served as a cook in a number of kitchens, followed by typhoid fever. She changed jobs quickly, though, and Dr. Soper was unable to find her. In 1915, a serious epidemic of typhoid erupted among the staff of the Sloane Hospital for Women. Two cases proved fatal. When a cook matching Mallon's description suddenly disappeared, the police were able to track her to an estate on Long Island. 

The End

Mallon was arrested and spent the rest of her life in quarantine. She was frequently interviewed by journalists, but none were allowed to even accept a glass of water from her. Eventually, she was allowed to work as a technician in the laboratory close by. In 1932,  Mallon was paralyzed due to a strok, and on November 11, 1938, she died of pneumonia. Typhoid Mary is on our list of people because she was the first person in the United States to be identified as an asymptotic carrier of typhoid fever.

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