Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Typhoid Mary

It's no wonder that her nickname - which she hated - has become an idiom. Here's the chronology of Mary Mallon, the first healthy typhoid carrier to be identified by medical science, who adamantly refused to acknowledge her infection - to the detriment of 53 people:

1900: Sickens members of a household in Mamaroneck, New York, after working for them for 2 weeks.

1901: Works for a family in Manhattan, spreading the disease, which kills the laundress.

1906: Causes 6 of 11 members of a family to be hospitalized with typhoid 2 weeks after taking a position in Long Island.

1907: Held in isolation by the New York City Health Dept (1st image, foreground) after actively resisting attempts to confirm her health status (including threatening an investigator with a carving fork), and infecting 3 more families. The investigator writes, "By that time she was convinced that the law was wantonly persecuting her, when she had done nothing wrong. She knew she had never had typhoid fever; she was maniacal in her integrity. There was nothing I could do but take her with us. The policemen lifted her into the ambulance and I literally sat on her all the way to the hospital; it was like being in a cage with an angry lion."

1909: Mary sues the Health Department, calling her confinement "unjust, outrageous, uncivilized," but is remanded by the judge and remains in custody.

1910: Released from quarantine under the condition that she never cook again. Disappears and lives under an assumed name. Works as a cook in a Manhattan maternity hospital for 3 months and sickens 25 staff members, 2 of whom die.

1915: Found and quarantined on North Brother Island for the rest of her life.

1938: Mary dies of pneumonia at age 69. She is found at autopsy to still be an active carrier of the disease. Her body is cremated and her ashes are buried (3rd image) in the Bronx.

It was probably her defiance that caused her name to go down in history, rather than "Typhoid Tony" (who infected at least 100) or "Typhoid John" (who infected 36), neither of whom was quarantined.

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