Hey you, yeah you, reading this, don’t be a Typhoid Mary! What’s that you say? You don’t know the story of Typhoid Mary? Well gather round, children, it’s story time.
First – what is Typhoid?
Typhoid is a bacterial infection of the intestinal tract spread through contaminated food and water. It’s a specific type of salmonella, it’s symptoms usually begin six to thirty days after exposure and include fever, weakness, stomach pain, constipation, headaches, and vomiting. Risk factors are poor sanitation and poor hygiene. Some people can be asymptomatic, and/or recover from typhoid but still carry the bacteria and shed it in their feces. Guys it’s a poop disease. Someone with poopy hands touches your food, or poop gets in the water supply and you gots the Typhoid.
And here comes Typhoid Mary
Mary Mallon was born in Cookstown (too bad she wasn’t born in Handwashing-ville) Northern Ireland in 1868. She emigrated to the United States as a teen, and within a few years was working as a cook in the New York City Area. In 1906, she started working for a family on Long Island and within two weeks ten of the eleven family members had typhoid. Over the next few months she changed jobs and households multiple times, and every time family members got typhoid within a couple weeks of Mary’s start date. Later in 1906 George Soper, a freelance sanity engineer, began investigating the outbreaks and soon set his sights on your girl Mary Mallon.
Strangely, Mary Mallon never left a forwarding address after she infected a family with Typhoid, but Soper eventually caught up to her at a Park Avenue penthouse because guess what? Everybody got Typhoid! Not surprisingly, Mary was not up to giving this rando at the door a poop sample, but not for the reasons you and I might object, but because she was the picture of health and didn’t believe she had Typhoid. Without a stool sample, George Soper had to do some old school investigating (which in the early 1900s they just called “investigating” – “old school” had not been invented yet) and he put together that in the preceding five years Mary had given Typhoid to seven of the eight families she worked for. That eighth family that did not get Typhoid was a family of raccoons, and only humans can get Typhoid. No sah, JK, but seriously only humans can get Typhoid.
In 1907 she was deemed a Typhoid carrier and held quarantine for three years. She was released on the condition she would no longer work as a cook and had to agree to “take such hygiene precautions to protect those with whom she came in contact”. Aka wash her damn dirty hands.
Mary never believed she had Typhoid, never mind be a carrier of it, but nonetheless she complied with her release terms and switched her profession to laundress. Unfortunately for Mary and the mortality rate of New York, laundry didn’t pay as well as the kitchen, so after a few years Mary Mallon took on the alias of Mary Brown and went back to work as a cook. Over the next five years she worked in multiple homes and always brought her good friend Typhoid with her.
In 1915 she stared an outbreak in New York City’s Sloane Hospital for Women, infecting twenty-five people and killing two. Mary legit went on the lam and was eventually picked up when she was visiting a friend on Long Island (why do they always revisit the scene of the crime). Mary Mallon Brown was arrested and put back in quarantine, where she lived for the rest of her life, twenty-three long years.
There are only three deaths officially attributed to Mary Mallon, but because she was a messy bitch who lived for drama and aliases, no one truly knows how many she infected. Some estimate her body count to be as high as 50.
But I wash my hands!
Ok, so you might not be a cook for a wealthy family with suspect hand washing beliefs, but you can still be a Typhoid Mary. First off, are you one of those jokers congregating at Castle Island? Having outdoor playdates for your kids and telling everyone to just space out? Cavorting at the beach? Open air cocktails with friends standing 6 feet apart? Congratulations, you’re a Typhoid Mary! The six feet apart suggestion is for essential trips outside the home, not because you can’t find anything to watch on Netflix. Social distancing sucks, I get it, but prolonged social interaction, even outside, is only going to extend it. Long story short you jerks are going to be the reason we’re cooped up till July, so knock it off, Mary.