Mary Mallon

For the comicbook character Typhoid Mary, see Typhoid Mary (comics)

Mary Mallon (September 23, 1869November 11, 1938), also known as Typhoid Mary, was an Irish immigrant who was the first known healthy carrier of typhoid fever in the United States. She was born in County Tyrone, Ireland in 1869 and immigrated to the United States alone in 1883. She apparently contracted typhoid fever at some point but suffered only a mild case, beating back the bacteria enough to appear healthy but still being capable of spreading disease to others. Having no particular job skills she obtained employment in private homes around New York City, eventually obtaining the relatively well-paid position of household cook.

Mary worked as a cook in the New York City area between 1900 and 1907. During this part of her working career she infected 22 people with the disease, one of whom died. Mary was a cook in a house in Mamaroneck, New York, for less than two weeks in the year 1900 when the residents came down with typhoid. She moved to employment in Manhattan in 1901, and members of that family developed fevers and diarrhea, and the laundress died. She went to work for a lawyer, until seven of the eight household members developed typhoid. Mary spent months helping to care for the people she made sick, but her care may have unwittingly worsened the victims' illnesses. In 1904, she took another position on Long Island. Within two weeks, four of ten family members were hospitalized with typhoid. She changed employment, and three more households were infected. Frequently the disease was transmitted by a dessert of iced peaches, a favorite recipe.

George Soper, a sanitary engineer hired by the landlord of a house where Mary had worked for typhoid fever victims, after careful investigation identified Mary as a carrier, and approached her with the news that she was spreading typhoid. She violently rebuffed his request for urine and stool samples, and Soper left, later publishing his findings in the June 15, 1907 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Soper brought a doctor with him on his next contact with Mallon, but was likewise rebuffed.

The New York City Health Department sent Dr. Josephine Baker to talk to Mallon, but:

By that time she was convinced that the law was wantonly persecuting her, when she had done nothing wrong. [1] ( A few days later Baker arrived at her place of work with several police officers to take her into custody.

The New York City health inspector investigated and found her to be a carrier, isolating her for three years at a hospital located on North Brother Island, and then releasing her on the condition she did not work with food. However in 1915 she returned to cooking and infected 25 people while working as a cook at New York's Sloan Hospital; two of those she infected died. Public health authorities then again seized her and confined Mary Mallon in quarantine for life. She became something of a celebrity, and was interviewed by journalists, who were forbidden to accept as much as a glass of water from her. Later in life, she was allowed to work in the island's laboratory as a technician.

She died in 1938 of pneumonia. The autopsy revealed that her gallbladder was still actively shedding typhoid bacilli. She was buried by the Department of Health at Saint Raymond's Cemetery in the Bronx.

Part of the problems Mary had resulted from her vehement denial of the situation. She maintained she was healthy and had never had typhoid fever. Historians say it also stemmed from the prejudice that existed against working-class Irish immigrants at the time.

Today, a Typhoid Mary is a term for a carrier of a dangerous disease who is a danger to the public because they refuse to take appropriate precautions or cooperate with the authorities to minimize the risk.

Further reading

  • Typhoid Mary, Captive to the Public's Health, Judith Walzer Leavitt, Beacon Press, Boston, 1996, hardcover, 331 pages, ISBN 0-8070-2102-4

External links

nl:Mary Mellon


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