Human Disasters Typhoid Mary Mallon Part 1

About the famous disease carrying Typhoid Mary Mallon, history and account of her in New York City.



In the palatial summer home of a New York City resident, in the year 1906, the recently hired cook worked over a special hot-weather menu. An icy-cold Nantucket cucumber soup would be appropriate, she thought. Perhaps lobster thermidor served with steamed rice and cold champagne. Or a dish of Grand Central oysters baked in their shells. After all, wasn't this Oyster Bay?

The guests who ate that summer dinner relished every mouthful. But 10 days later several of them, sick and feverish, were admitted to a New York hospital. They had contracted a highly contagious disease--typhoid fever.

Shortly afterward the owner of the summer home called the New York City Dept. of Health. The department assigned Dr. George Soper, sanitary engineer for the city, to the case. He may not have had the brilliant analytical faculties of a Sherlock Holmes, but he did question, test, and finally deduce that the culprit responsible for the minor epidemic at Oyster Bay was the hired cook, a Miss Mary Mallon.

Mary had changed jobs by then. In fact, she had completely disappeared. While attempting to track her down, Soper discovered that she changed jobs frequently. And wherever she had worked, a case of typhoid was soon reported. After an extensive door-to-door search, he finally cornered her. He explained that as far as the Dept. of Health could determine, she was probably the first known typhoid carrier in the U.S. He pointed out the importance of unrecognized cases and begged her to submit to a physical examination and tests. Brandishing a large rolling pin, she chased him down the stairs and slammed the door after him. For the New York Health Dept., this was only the beginning of 30 years of cat-and-mouse games with Mary Mallon.

The city, determined to apprehend this public menace, sent Dr. J. S. Baker and several police officers to Mary Mallon's living quarters. They took her into custody and placed her in an isolation ward at Willard Parker Hospital. For a solid year she was subjected to countless tests. These proved that she was indeed a typhoid carrier and that before her detention in 1907, she had been the cause of at least seven outbreaks involving 26 cases of the fever.

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