Typhoid Mary

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How could a seemingly healthy woman spread a potentially deadly disease?

Typhoid or Typhoid fever fever is a bacterial infection that can spread throughout the body, affecting many organs. Without prompt treatment, it can cause serious complications and can be fatal.If typhoid fever isn’t treated, it’s estimated that up to 1 in 5 people with the condition will die. However at the start of the 20th century that number would have been greater.

The main symptoms of typhoid fever are:

  • a high temperature that can reach 39 to 40C
  • headache
  • general aches and pains
  • cough
  • constipation

Additionally it can cause diarrhea and a rash.Typhoid fever is caused by a type of bacteria called Salmonella typhi. It is basically spread by poor hygiene.

Mary Mallon was an asymptomatic carrier of the pathogen associated with typhoid fever. This means although she was infected she didn’t have any signs of the symptoms. Although she herself did not have the symptoms, she was a carrier and could infect others around her.

She  was born in 1869 in Cookstown, County Tyrone, in what is now Northern Ireland.Orphaned as a child, Mary lived with her grandmother. Her Grandmother taught Mary how to scrounge for food and cook with what they had, making potato cakes and nettles over a peat fire.

In 1883 or 1884, Mary immigrated  to the US  where she lived with her Aunt and Uncle.In 1900  , she found employment in Mamaroneck, New York, as a cook.

Mary ccok

Soon a number of residents of the houses where she worked developed fever and diarrhea.

In 1901, she moved 18 miles to Manhattan, where members of the family for whom she worked developed fevers and diarrhea, and the laundress died. Mallon then went to work for a lawyer and left after seven of the eight people in that household became ill.

In 1906 she moved to  Oyster Bay ,Long Island.Where again she got a job as a cook. Within two weeks, 10 of the 11 family members were diagnosed with typhoid and hospitalized. Mary moved jobs again, this time for a wealthy New York banker, Charles Henry Warren. The Warrens had rented a house in Oyster Bay for the summer of 1906, Mallon went along too ,where she infected  six of the 11 people in the family.

Eventually one of the families Mary had worked for hired George Soper, a typhoid researcher

soper

After his investigation Soper released his  results on June 15, 1907, in the Journal of the American Medical Association. He had the believe that Mary Mallon could be the source of the outbreak.He wrote:

“It was found that the family changed cooks in August 4. This was about three weeks before the typhoid epidemic broke out. The new cook, Mallon, remained in the family only a short time, and left about three weeks after the outbreak occurred. Mallon was described as an Irish woman about 40 years of age, tall, heavy, single. She seemed to be in perfect health.”

Soper looked into the employment agencies which staffed private kitchens and retrieved the name of Mary’s employers from 1900 to 1907. He found out that typhoid had struck seven of the last eight families where she worked. He also discovered, , that in all the stricken households she had lovingly iced and nursed the victims ,even receiving a tip of $50 from  one employer.

Soper tracked Mary Mallon to a house on Park Avenue,home of Walter Bowen, where a daughter and maid had already come down with typhoid. When Soper  approached  Mary about her possible role in spreading typhoid, she was furious.

Soper reported this to the authorities  and eventually, the New York City Department of Health arranged for Mallon to be taken into custody. Doctors found typhoid bacteria in her gallbladder, but she refused to have it removed as she didn’t believe she carried the disease. Mallon was held in isolation for three years at a clinic located on North Brother Island.

hospital

In 1910 it was agreed that Mallon could be released from the Hospital if she agreed to stop working as a cook, and take precautions to ensure that she didn’t infect more people with  typhoid. She returned to the mainland and got a job as a laundress. But Sbecause this was a low paid job  she changed her name to Mary Brown and resumed working as a cook.

For the following five years, everywhere she went, typhoid followed. In 1915 she set off a major outbreak in New York in which 25 people were infected and two died. She was arrested and on March 27,1915 the health authorities  returned her to quarantine on North Brother Island,where she remained for the rest of her life.

isolation

Despite her isolation she became a minor celebrity and was occasionally interviewed by the media.Visitors  were  strongly urged warned not to accept even a glass of water from her . On November 11,1938, died of pneumonia at the age of 69.

poster

 

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Sources

Irish Times

Irish America

 

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The silent killer in WWII-An unexpected enemy.

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Of all the enemies Allied soldiers confronted during World War II, malaria proved to be among the most stubborn. The mosquito-borne disease was a constant scourge for soldiers stationed in the Pacific and Mediterranean theaters. General MacArthur’s retreat to the malarial Philippine peninsula of Bataan in early 1942 led directly to his sickly army’s surrender to the Japanese a few months later. The illness continued to cripple American forces during the ensuing campaigns in Papua New Guinea and Guadalcanal, where it was so rampant that a division commander ordered that no Marine be excused from duty without a temperature of at least 103°F.

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Troops in Southern Europe faced similar problems. During the Seventh Army’s Sicilian campaign from July to September 1943, 21,482 soldiers were admitted to the hospital for malaria; 17,535 were admitted for battle casualties. All in all, malaria accounted for almost a half-million hospital admissions and more than 300 American deaths during the war.

After some fits and starts, the military responded to the malaria outbreak with a full-out assault. The Army’s Medical Department dispatched malaria control units to war zones to clear and clean standing water and bombard malarial areas with recently developed insecticides like DDT and “bug bombs.” With access to quinine cut off by the Japanese conquest of Java, the government sped up trials of the anti-malarial medicine atabrine.

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Between 60 and 65 percent of Soldiers serving in the South Pacific reported having malaria at some point.  Reports indicate that some enlisted men would refuse to take the anti-malaria drug Atabrine because continual use turned the skin a sallow yellow color.  Atabrine was only partially effective to begin with, and Soldiers who stopped use were virtually unprotected.

Atabrine1

Despite side effects such as turning the skin yellow, millions of tablets of the drug were distributed to troops toward the end of the war.

Atabrine was not the only tool the Army used to fight the spread of malaria in the Pacific.  The fact that no one could ensure that all troops would take the medication consistently meant that additional measures needed to be taken to reduce the risk of infection as much as possible.  One of the most important and effective tools the Army had against malaria was the insecticide dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane, more commonly known as DDT.

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Beginning in 1943, the Army began using DDT in a powdered form which was applied directly to soldiers and refugees in Italy, where a typhus epidemic was raging.  It was discovered that this treatment was highly effective against the lice that carried the disease.  The same powder was used in the Pacific as well, but the Army soon realized that DDT could also be useful against malaria.

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The military also warned soldiers about the dangers of the disease with an aggressive propaganda campaign that tried a variety of approaches, including patriotic appeals, racist caricatures, scare tactics, and goofy cartoons (including one drawn by the young Dr. Seuss). The campaign worked: Infection rates fell dramatically, and a healthier fighting force went on to claim victory in Europe and Asia.

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The Armed Forces Radio Service (AFRS) also did its part to help fight malaria among the servicemen in the PTO.  Stations of AFRS’s “Mosquito Network” in the South Pacific constantly reminded soldiers to take their Atabrine, and often injected humor into their broadcasts.  For instance, the station on Guadalcanal ran a program called “The Atabrine Cocktail Hour,” a show that aired each day at 1730 and featured fifteen minutes of “cocktail music” from “exotic” places like the “Fungus Festooned Fern Room” or the “Starlight Roof high atop the Hotel DeGrink in downtown Guadalcanal.”

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The only silver lining to the malaria problem was that the Japanese suffered just as much, if not more, than the Americans.  Estimates suggest that at times some Japanese units were 90% combat ineffective due to a combination of malaria and dysentery.  Fresh American troops, not yet infected, were most effective when used against Japanese forces that had been in the field for months; and the lack of medical provisioning led to even higher casualties among the Japanese.

 

Dancing Mania aka dancing plague, choreomania, St John’s Dance

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Dancing mania (also known as dancing plague, choreomania, St John’s Dance and, historically, St. Vitus’s Dance) was a social phenomenon that occurred primarily in mainland Europe between the 14th and 17th centuries. It involved groups of people dancing erratically, sometimes thousands at a time. The mania affected men, women, and children who danced until they collapsed from exhaustion. One of the first major outbreaks was in Aachen, in the Holy Roman Empire, in 1374, and it quickly spread throughout Europe; one particularly notable outbreak occurred in Strasbourg in 1518, also in the Holy Roman Empire.

news-dancing

The Strassbourg outbreak began in July 1518, when a woman, Mrs. Troffea, began to dance fervently in a street in Strasbourg. This lasted somewhere between four and six days. Within a week, 34 others had joined, and within a month, there were around 400 dancers, predominantly female. Some of these people eventually died from heart attacks, strokes, or exhaustion.One report indicates that for a period the plague killed around fifteen people per day.

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Affecting thousands of people across several centuries, dancing mania was not an isolated event, and was well documented in contemporary reports. It was nevertheless poorly understood, and remedies were based on guesswork. Generally, musicians accompanied dancers, to help ward off the mania, but this tactic sometimes backfired by encouraging more to join in. There is no consensus among modern-day scholars as to the cause of dancing mania.

The several theories proposed range from religious cults being behind the processions to people dancing to relieve themselves of stress and put the poverty of the period out of their minds. It is, however, thought to have been a mass psychogenic illness in which the occurrence of similar physical symptoms, with no known physical cause, affect a large group of people as a form of social influence.

Modern theories include food-poisoning caused by the toxic and psychoactive chemical products of ergot fungi, which grows commonly on grains in the wheat family (such as rye).

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Ergotamine is the main psychoactive product of ergot fungi, it is structurally related to the recreational drug lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD-25), and is the substance from which LSD-25 was originally synthesized. The same fungus has also been implicated in other major historical anomalies, including the Salem witch trials.

Matteson-witch

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