In the present , humanity has been able to solve most threat against its existence. Imagine being able to curb several cases of a deadly disease outbreak without breaking a sweat! It’s definitely a cinch. However, did you know? Curbing disease outbreaks in the past centuries as close as the 20th was rocket science, and this becomes more difficult when carriers are asymptomatic ( No Symptoms/signs of disease are observed in the carrier). Let’s take a brisk walk back in time to the first outbreak of Typhoid Fever.
Have your ever heard of someone born with massive numbers of deadly bacteria? Mary Mallon’s mother was seriously infected with typhoid fever during her pregnancy, this led to Mary being born with typhoid fever. She immigrated to the United States When her mother passed away so she had to live with her aunt and uncle for some time before she was able to secure a job as a maid, eventually, she became a cook for wealthy families.
In 1900, Mary, a silent carrier of one of the most deadly diseases worked as a COOK for one of the wealthiest family in New York City where within two weeks of her employment, each member of the family developed typhoid fever. In 1901, she relocated to Manhattan and got a job as a cook for another wealthy family, within a few weeks, the family she worked for developed “unexplainable” fevers and diarrhea from which one resident died.
Mary, the silent carrier of a murderous contagious disease luckily got another job as a COOK in 1904, this time, she worked for an affluent lawyer, Henry Gilsey. Within seven days, the laundress contracted the disease, and within a few more days, four of the seven other workers also contracted the disease. Fortunately, non of the Gilsey’s family contracted the disease due to the fact that they hardly stayed in their own house, So only the workers maintained the house. Immediately after this outbreak, the silent killer left! Investigations conducted wrongfully concluded that the laundress had caused the outbreak, however, they had no proof!
Mary, the lucky job seeker, left and moved to Tuxedo Park, she was hired by George Kessler. Couple of weeks later, the laundress in his manor was infected and was immediately sent to a regional Medical center, where the “First” case of typhoid was recorded in a long time. Mallon left the resident as usual. In August 1906, Mary Mallon secured another job as a cook with a wealthy New York banker, Charles Henry Warren. Six Out of eleven family members got infected within few days. Water and other samples in the home were tested, all which were tested negative for typhoid. “Where does this outbreak came from!?” Soper said. Soper, an outbreak detective who was hired to fish out the source of the disease almost gave up on his mission not until the family told him about a cook who left immediately after the outbreak.
Soper left for a desperate search for Mallon. “I must stop her before she get into another family, or things are going to get worse ” he soliloquized. In 1907, the 7th year, Mallon was hired by Walter Bowen, whose family lived around Park Avenue. The family maid got sick within a few days also and sadly Charles Warren’s only daughter also got typhoid and died. This case helped Soper to identify Mallon as the source of the infections as she was involved in all the cases recorded. Like always, Mallon was getting ready to depart when Soper got to Bowen’s resident and finally, they both met.
Mallon, having been ignorant of what she had caused to many families refused to accept the fact that she was a Carrier of Salmonella bacteria. Soper accused her of spreading the disease. “You spread the outbreak! And without doubt you will have to come with me for further investigation”. Mary, still naive, threatened him with a carving fork. Soper notified the New York City Health Department immediately. After Mary refused to give samples of stool and urine, she was arrested.
Mallon was arrested as a public health threat and was forced into an ambulance by five policemen and was transported to an hospital where further investigation reveals she was the carrier. For four days, she was not allowed to get up and use the bathroom on her own. The center of infections lie in her gallbladder as massive numbers of Salmonella bacteria were discovered in here stool. Whilst being questioned Mallon admitted that she almost never washed her hands, this left the investigators dumbfounded.
Mallon was subsequently quarantined. authorities suggested that her gallbladder should be removed, however she refused because she did not believe she was a carrier of the deadly disease. In the 20th century gallbladder removal was a dangerous procedure and majority of people died from the procedure. Mallon attracted extensive media attention and received the nickname “Typhoid Mary”. The story of Typhoid Mary didn’t end not until Mallon suffered from a nervous breakdown after her arrest and forcible transportation to the hospital. She was obliged to give samples for analysis three times a week, but for up-to six months was not allowed to visit an eye doctor, even though her eyelid was paralyzed.
After almost three years of quarantine, Mallon was set free based on some consideration, she signed an agreement to obey some certain rules which includes quitting her occupation as a cook. Mallon agreed to this for some time but she went back to her cooking job and worked as a cook in a restaurant. There was an outbreak of typhoid once again! Many people were infected once again and two died. Mallon fled, but was apprehended and quarantined.
Mallon spent the rest of her life in quarantine at Riverside Hospital on North Brother Island. She was healthy until she suffered from a stroke in 1932; afterwards, she was confined to the hospital. Half of her body remained paralyzed and she later died of pneumonia at age 69. Her body was cremated, and her ashes were buried at Saint Raymond’s Cemetery in the Bronx. Only nine people attended the funeral.
The history of Mary Mallon, declared “unclean” just like a leper, may give us some moral lessons on how to protect ourself from the spread of disease. After her death, New York identified more than 400 other healthy carriers of Salmonella typhi, fortunately no one else has been forcibly confined or Stigmatized as an “unwanted ill”.
Don’t Be A Typhoid Mary!!
Writer: Ahmad Abdullah
University of Ilorin, Kwara State, Nigeria