Viewing an episode of one of CBS’s 1000 ways to die was the first time I came across the story
of Mary Mallon, the controversial nature of the program made me doubt the story but my doubts
were later dispelled in my epidemiology textbook. Mary Mallon made a landmark contribution to
public health and understanding of disease occurrence pattern just like healthy covid-19 patients
which indicates a corresponding pattern in the story of their lifetime. This article aims to divulge
who Mary Mallon was, her contribution to understanding pattern of disease occurrence and the
similarity between her story and that of a healthy covid-19 patient.
WHO WAS MARY MALLON
Mary Mallon, also known as Typhoid Mary was born 23 September 1869 from County Tyrone
Ireland (now known as Northern-Ireland), she migrated to the USA at age 15 she lived with her
aunt and uncle for a time until she started working as a cook. Mary can be considered a classy
cook as she worked as cook for the rich people of Manhattan, she worked with 8 families
between 1900-1907 though, she didn’t last long with each family as they always get sick few
months into her job with them.
Typhoid is communicable disease caused by salmonella typhi bacteria, it spreads through
contaminated foods and water or through close contact with someone who is infected. Some of
the typical signs and symptoms are high fever, headache, abdominal pain, and either constipation
or diarrhea. Antibiotics are usually used in treating typhoid fever and most people upon
completion of prescription however, late intervention could lead to a life-threatening condition
some of which are; intestinal bleeding or holes, inflammation of the heart muscles, lining and
valves amongst others.
MARY MALLON AND HER TYPHOID CASE
All the people Mary worked for had most of their family getting sick including their other
domestic workers except her, their sickness usually shows signs like fever and diarrhea and some
of them later die. This pattern continued making her move from one family to another until she
was in 1906 by Walter Bowen who’s on Park Avenue, the maid and some other workers got sick
and the family lost their only daughter to typhoid. The Walter family hired Investigator Soper to
look into the matter, water samples from pipes, faucet, toilets and cesspool were collected but,
they all came out negative, investigation continued until it was discovered that a female cook
worked for all the families that were affected by the outbreak.
At the time, the disease was an unusual occurrence in such environment since the disease hit
mostly unhygienic settings. Also, at that time the theory of ASYMPTOMATIC CARRIERS was
unfamiliar even to health care workers. Mary’s samples were later detected to contain an
enormous amount of salmonella typhii at the Willard Parker Hospital following several months
of hunting and her deliberate refusal to present herself for clinical investigation. The result
indicated her gallbladder was the epicenter of the infection which she refused them removing as
she didn’t believe she was infected and a gallbladder surgery at that time came with a lot of
19 March 1907, Mary was sentenced to quarantine which she saw as them just being against her
for no reason as she even tried suing the New York Health Department complaining of being
treated like guinea pig but her complaint was shorn of. She was later released after much appeal
but on condition of not working as a cook again, Mary did otherwise as she kept on working
using fake names and infecting people until nemesis caught up with her and her was final
sentenced to life quarantine, she later died at age 69 at the River Site Hospital, North Brother
Island, New York, USA. Her body was cremated and her ashes were buried at the St Raymond
Cemetery in Bronx.
Infected COVID-19 patient’s experiences varying degree of symptoms some severe, some mild
and others not feeling anything at all. SARS-CoV2 being a new type of virus efforts in trying to
fully understand it are still in progress, in a statement made by Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, The
World Health Organization’s Technical Lead for COVID-19, several countries have reported
cases of healthy infected COVID-19 patients but the extent to which these group of people can
infect others cannot be ascertained currently.
The World Health Organization defined an asymptomatic COVID-19 case patient as a person
whose laboratory test confirmed their infection status to be positive but does not develop or
manifest any symptoms but can still transmit the disease to people. The Commissioner of Health,
Lagos State, Prof. Akin Abayomi confirmed during a live Instagram session with Adeolu
Adefarasin a Nollywood actor that 70% of COVID-19 patient in the state are Asymptomatic.
Majority of the healthy COVID-19 patients were tested mandatorily via contact tracing, which
means they were in contact with an individual that tested positive hence they have to be tested.
Keeping them in isolation became a necessity as most people were not complying by the self-
isolating guidelines and to avoid further spreading of the disease, healthy infected individuals
were also under watch.
HOW MARY MALLON AND COVID-19 HEALTHY PATIENTS RELATE?
-Mary infected other people despite not showing symptoms of typhoid fever also, healthy
COVID-19 patients can also infect people despite their non-manifestation of symptoms.
-Mary was against being quarantined just like most COVID-19 healthy patients feeling they only
kept them to increase numbers
-Mary Mallon, despite infected hundreds of people with some even dying as a result, she still
maintained her claim of not being infected, healthy COVID-19 patients also felt they were not
infected with some claiming they only had malaria.
-Mary spread false tales about the New York Health Department and even attempted to sue them
just like some health infected patients are also disseminating untrue stories.
-Mary tried fleeing her quarantined location but was futile, in the case of some infected COVID-
19 patient they were able to escape.
Rather than being thankful of being symptom-free, some healthy COVID-19 patients came up
with several conspiracy theories misinforming those that were ready to listen to them. Being
asymptomatic to diseases is not a new phenomenon which makes me wonder what the
government bashing is all about, but can we really blame them? Some of our governments past
behaviours could be the bedrock of their suspicion.