New York cook ‘Typhoid Mary’ Mallon (1869–1938) was an asymptomatic carrier of typhoid – in other words neither she nor anyone else could easily tell she had it.
She infected between 33 and 53 people, 3 of whom died. She worked as a cook for seven different New York families and, every time too many people in the house got typhoid (in one case 7 out of 8), she would suddenly leave and take up a new position. When the authorities caught on in 1907 and tried to test her, she threatened them with a meat fork. It took a doctor and 5 policemen to restrain her and get her to quarantine.
She was released after three years on condition she never worked as a cook again, which she almost immediately did. She got a job in a maternity hospital under a false name, causing another typhoid outbreak. After that, she was forced to spend the last two decades of her life (1915-1938) isolated in a hospital on North Brother Island in New York’s East River. She always denied she was carrying typhoid and eventually died of pneumonia.
Typhoid is caused by the bacterium Salmonella typhi, which is related to the bacteria that cause salmonella food poisoning. (The genus Salmonella is named after a vet called Dr. Daniel Salmon who died of pneumonia in Butte, Montana in 1914.)
Typhoid fever is passed from person to person through poor hygiene, such as incomplete or no hand washing after using the toilet. Persons who are carriers of the disease and who handle food can be the source of epidemic spread of typhoid.
These days, antibiotics are used to treat typhoid fever. Carriers of S. typhi must be treated even when they do not show any symptoms of the infection as carriers are responsible for the majority of new cases of typhoid fever. Eliminating the carrier state is a fairly difficult task. It requires treatment with one or two different medications over a period of four to six weeks. If a carrier has gallstones, surgery maybe needed to remove the gallbladder because typhoid bacteria can survive there even after antibiotic treatment.
DNA analysis has shown that a plague that hit Athens around 400BC was typhoid fever, which makes it the oldest identifiable disease in history. 100,000 people died, and the demoralised city surrendered to Sparta.
The world is going mad at an accelerating rate and television is the Typhoid Mary of this madness.
Typhoid still kills around 600,000 people every year.
Arnold Bennett died of typhoid after drinking a glass of Parisian water to prove it was perfectly safe.
In 1964, a typhoid outbreak in Aberdeen was traced to Fray Bentos corned beef.