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Mary Mallon

Mary Mallon, also known as Typhoid Mary, was an Irish immigrant who was a carrier of typhoid fever. She was born in Ireland in 1869. She apparently contracted typhoid fever at some point but suffered only a mild case. Mary worked as a cook in New York City area between 1900 and 1907. During her working career she infected 22 people with the disease, one of whom died. 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 fled, 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] (http://history1900s.about.com/library/weekly/aa062900b.htm)
The New York City health inspector investigated and found her to be a carrier isolating her for 3 years at a hospital then releasing her on the condition she did not work with food. However in 1915 she returned to cooking, infecting 25 people, 2 of whom died. Public health authorities then confined Mary Mallon in quarantine for life, very harsh treatment, perhaps a violation of her civil rights. She died in 1938.

Part of the problems Mary had resulted from her vehmenent denial of the situation. She maintained she was healthy and had never had typhoid fever.

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

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