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Happy Typhoid Mary Day!

On March 27, 1915, Mary Mallon, the first person identified as an asymptomatic carrier of typhoid, was put into quarantine. She stayed there until she died in 1938.

courtesy of NNDB

courtesy of NNDB

After emigrating to New York from Ireland in 1884, Mary became a cook.


People usually get typhoid fever after taking in food or water contaminated by a human carrier.  The carrier can be healthy, and has probably survived typhoid. But, they carry the bacteria – salmonella typhi – in poo and pee, to use the technical terms.  Generally, if they wash their hands before serving dinner, this isn’t a problem.

But, with Mary, it was.

Around 1900, she worked in Mamaroneck, NY, and within TWO days, the residents of the hotel developed typhoid.

She was run out on a rail moved to Manhattan in 1901, and family members where she was employed developed fevers and diarrhea – and the laundress of the household died!

After being told to hit the road, she landed in the home of a lawyer – she was fired after seven of the eight people living there developed, you guessed it, typhoid.

In 1906, after an ‘unexplained’ gap in her employment record, she went to work in Oyster Bay, Long Island. Two weeks later, 10 of 11 family members were in the hospital, again with typhoid.

She moved from family to family, dragging the disease with her and nearly killing everyone she ‘helped’.

The last family, in 1906, hired someone to investigate the problem.  The investigator, George Sopor wrote, “…It was found that the family changed cooks on August 4. This was about three weeks before the typhoid epidemic broke out. She remained in the family only a short time, leaving about three weeks after the outbreak occurred. The cook was described as an Irish woman about 40 years of age, tall, heavy, single. She seemed to be in perfect health.”

After discovering the ‘common element’ in all the outbreaks, he tracked her down, and asked that she provide urine and stool samples.

She refused.

When she was finally hospitalized (the first time) he contacted her, again asking for ‘samples’, and told her that he wanted to write a book about her and he would give her all the royalties.

courtesy of Wikipedia

courtesy of Wikipedia

She locked herself in the loo, she was pissed, but she refused to pee.

Her first quarantine was for three years, 1907-1910. The NYC Health Dept. took her into custody with the aid of several of New York’s finest.

Once in custody, stool and urine samples were taken – forcibly – OMG! by prison matrons.  (I really don’t want to know how that was done.)

She was referred to as Typhoid Mary in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which leads me to believe that Political Correctness had not yet come into vogue.

The cultures taken revealed that her gallbladder was a hotbed of infection and was rife with typhoid salmonella.

After revealing that “…she rarely washed her hands when cooking and felt there was no need…” , Doctors suggested that she have her gallbladder removed.

She refused.

She also refused to give UP her ‘life’s calling’ as a cook, insisting that “…she carried no disease…”

Apparently, the US Constitution was still in effect.

At long last, after signing a document stating she would use better hygiene and get a new job, she was released.

Instead of keeping her word, she changed her name to Mary Brown and went back to work as a cook.  That laundry job didn’t pay enough.

In 1915, when a serious outbreak of typhoid occurred at the Sloane Hospital for Women, Dr. Soper was not surprised to learn that a ‘portly, 40 something, Irish cook had just left the kitchen.”

She was again arrested and quarantined for the remainder of her life.

courtesy of Richard Nickel Jr

courtesy of Richard Nickel Jr

She died, oddly enough, of pneumonia in 1938 after nearly 30 years in quarantine.

After her death, an autopsy was performed revealing that her gallbladder was the culprit, just as Dr. Sopor had thought.

She was promptly cremated.

Let’s all go wash our hands now.

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