People Who Make You Sick

Choose your partners, one and all,
Aspirin, Advil or Tylenol!
Now fling those covers with all you’ve got.
One minute cold, the next minute hot.

Circle right to the side of the bed,
Grab the tissues and Sudafed.
Back to the middle and don’t goof off,
Hold your stomach and cough, cough, cough.

Forget about slippers, dash down the hall.
Toss your cookies in the shower stall
Remember others on the brink
Wash your hands, wash the sink.

Wipe the doorknob, the light switch too,
Now you’ve got it, you’re doing the flu.
Some like it cold, some like it hot,
If you like neither, then get the shot.

Mary Mallon was born in Ireland on September 23, 1869 and immigrated to America in 1883 at age 15.  For a time, Mary lived with relatives (aunt and uncle) before finding employment as a domestic cook for affluent families.  From 1900 to 1907, Mallon worked  in the kitchen of seven different families in the New York City area.  In each case, all of the family members and other household staff got typhoid fever, with some dying from it.  Finally a newspaper reporter began to investigate this sudden rise of typhoid cases.
His name was Eugene Sopher and he came to believe that Mary Mallon was the source of the outbreak, since she was the one common denominator in all the cases.  The families described her as an Irish woman about 40 years of age, tall, heavy, single, who seemed to be in perfect health.  Soon Sopher heard of another home typhoid outbreak and sure enough, Mallon was the one preparing their meals.  Sopher approached Mary about her possible role in spreading the disease, which she vehemently denied (including his request for her to provide urine and stool samples to him).  Finally, Sopher reported his findings to the New York City Department of Health and they sent out one of their staff physicians, Dr. Sara Baker, to talk with Mallon.  The family cook confessed to poor hygiene habits (such as failure to regularly wash her hands), but protested she posed any health risk because obviously she did not have the disease (no poor appetite, no abdominal pain, no headaches, no high fever, no diarrhea, etc.).  A few days later, Dr. Baker returned with the police who took her into custody.  Now quarantined in prison, Mallon was forced to give both a urine and stool sample and from these she was officially diagnosed with typhoid fever.  And so Mary Mallon became the first person in history to be identified by science as being medically asymptomatic  (an individual who has a disease and is a carrier of it, but who shows no symptoms or effects of that disease).   Mallon was released from prison after signing an affidavit before a judge that she would never again work as a cook and would follow the prescribed hygienic precautions to prevent spreading typhoid.  Upon her release, Mary took a job as a laundress, but it paid less than that of a cook – so she eventually changed her name to Mary Brown and returned cooking in spite of the court order.  For the next five years, she worked in a number of kitchens, and wherever she was employed, there were outbreaks of typhoid.

However, Mary changed jobs frequently and authorities were not able to catch up to her.  Then in 1915, Mallon started a major outbreak, this time at the Sloan Hospital for Women in New York City where she prepared meals for patients – twenty-five were infected and two died.  Mary again left, but this time the police were able to find and arrest her.  Then for the next 30 years of her life, she was isolated on an island outside of New York City.  Public health officials estimate that she caused at least 50 deaths, but because of her use of aliases and refusal to cooperate, the exact fatality figure will never be known.  The newspaper reporter, Edward Sopher, wrote a book about her, calling it Typhoid Mary.  Today, “Typhoid Mary” is a colloquial term for anyone who knowingly or unknowingly, spreads disease or some other undesirable thing.

Recently, medical researchers infected a group of volunteers with the exact same flu virus.  Then in doing follow-up blood work, they discovered that all got the virus and all eventually produced white cells to eliminate it.  But that’s where the similarities ended – for one half of the group developed the flu symptoms (fever, chills, sore throat, cough, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headaches, fatigue, vomiting, diarrhea, etc.) while the other half did not, feeling as good as ever.  And try as they might, the researchers could not find the reason for the difference – as some who had the flu symptoms were very careful in hygiene, diet and exercise; while others who had no flu symptoms were quite reckless in the same.

The bottom line?  It appears that there are people who are going to get sick with the cold/flu and there are people who are not going to get sick with the cold/ flu, even though each has the very same virus within.  And whichever one you are, that’s nothing to sneeze at.