Maternity Ward Infections Were Also Due to Typhoid Mary

Thyphoid fever killed over 35,000 individuals at the turn of the 20th century. It seems difficult to understand, since the germ theory of disease seems so ingrained in our culture now, but the lack of understanding of the germ theory and the issues of the asymptomatic carrier of infection was the reason these infections could kill so many individuals. In 1900 they didn't yet understand as to how someone could pass disease but not necessarily be sick, so they never thought to educate or treat those without overt illness.  Public health officials in New York began tracking outbreaks of typhoid. A tireless public servant, George Soper, through diligent detective work, discovered that faceless woman cook, a Mary Mallon was a common link to series of cases. Once the authorities  tracked her down Soper dispatched a Dr. S. Josephine Baker to round her up. Once tests confirmed this woman was a healthy individual who carried typhoid, but didn't have typhoid, they began to understand that she was the cause of these infections, some of which began in maternity wards, and the papers dubbed her Typhoid Mary. Mary, herself, never believed the science one bit, but slipped away from confinement by promising not to cook for people again. But a large outbreak of typhoid fever in Sloan Maternity Hospital began to be investigated and they discovered that typhoid Mary had taken the name of Mary Brown and was working in the Maternity hospital. Once again, she was told not to work, and that ended that episode. We have gained great knowledge about asymptomatic disease carriers, but we have not learned all of our lessons, however, as we still in 2013 have about 3/4 women with chlamydia not recognizing that they are carriers, and that has kept our STD epidemic alive and well, and no one single Typhoid Mary to point to!


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