Mary Mallon

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Mary Mallon (September 23, 1870 – November 11, 1938), also known as "Typhoid Mary," was a cook in the United States who is infamous for being an asymptomatic carrier of the bacterium Salmonella typhi, the causative agent of typhoid fever. Despite never falling ill herself, she is believed to have infected at least 51 people, three of whom died, over the course of her career.

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Early Life[edit | edit source]

Mallon was born in 1870 in Cookstown, County Tyrone, in what is now Northern Ireland. She emigrated to the United States in 1883 or 1884, living with her aunt and uncle for a time before finding employment as a cook for affluent families in New York City.

Carrier of Typhoid Fever[edit | edit source]

In 1906, while Mallon was working for a family in Oyster Bay, Long Island, seven of the eight family members fell ill with typhoid fever. When the family hired the sanitary engineer George Soper to investigate, he discovered that Mallon was the likely source of the infection. This marked the first known instance of a healthy carrier of typhoid fever in the United States.

Mallon herself never exhibited any symptoms of the disease, which led to her denial of being a carrier. She believed the health officials were persecuting her without reason. This asymptomatic but infectious condition is a phenomenon that's now understood in the context of medical microbiology, but at the time was relatively unknown.

Discovery and Quarantine[edit | edit source]

Despite the evidence, Mallon refused to cooperate with health officials, leading to her arrest and forcible quarantine in 1907. She was confined to Riverside Hospital on North Brother Island, where she remained for three years. During this time, public health officials confirmed that she was a carrier of Salmonella typhi.

In 1910, Mallon agreed to be released on the condition that she would not work as a cook and would take reasonable steps to prevent transmitting typhoid to others. However, unable to find work outside of cooking, she changed her name and continued to work as a cook, leading to several additional outbreaks.

Later Life and Death[edit | edit source]

In 1915, Mallon was again arrested and quarantined on North Brother Island after an outbreak at Sloane Hospital for Women. She spent the remainder of her life in quarantine, refusing till the end to believe that she carried the typhoid bacteria. Mallon died in 1938 of a stroke. An autopsy revealed evidence of live typhoid bacteria in her gallbladder.

Legacy[edit | edit source]

Mallon's case has led to significant developments in understanding of disease carriers and public health. It highlights the importance of proper hygiene practices, the potential for asymptomatic carriers to spread disease, and the ethical issues associated with forcible quarantine.

See Also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Mary Mallon Resources

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