Typhoid Mary

What Does Handwashing Have to Do With Typhoid Fever

Typhoid fever is an infectious disease caused by salmonella typhi, a strictly human pathogen. It multiplies in the small intestine and is excreted in feces. Contamination is carried to others through compromised fecal matter’s coming into contact with food or water (from infected fecal matter’s leaching into ground water sources).

The simple act of handwashing before handling food would stop the spread of the typhoid germ salmonella typhi. Remember that handwashing after handling food is also important

Typhoid Facts

  • Sudden and prolonged fever that causes patients’ temperatures to rise to 104° or 105°F
  • Powerful headaches
  • Gut-wrenching nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Victims develop bad coughs, sore throats, hoarseness, diarrhea, skin rashes, and abdominal pain

Typhoid Mary

Mary Mallon, born in 1869, was an Irish immigrant who came to the United States in search of a better life at age 15. She earned her living as a cook working for wealthy families. She came to the attention of the authorities in 1906 when members of a household on Long Island all became ill with typhoid. Before she got caught, Mary had moved on and disappeared for a time while investigators learned that typhoid occurred in other places where she had worked.

It was determined that Mary was contaminating people with typhoid and when they caught her in 1907, she was detained in Riverside Hospital on North Brother Island until 1910. Mary was released after she was taught “proper hygiene” and ordered to never work on the food industry again. Mary was found working in a hospital kitchen in 1915 and was then sent back to North Brother Island for the last 23 years of her life. Mary died at age 69.

Authorities attributed 33 cases of typhoid fever and three deaths to Mary Mallon.

Handwashing and Typhoid Today

Today, handwashing is still the first line of defense against disease germs like typhoid. Fortunately, with today’s antibiotics, typhoid fever can be cured.

The disease is most commonly transmitted through poor hygiene habits and public sanitation conditions. Public education campaigns encouraging people to wash their hands after toileting and before handling food are an important component in controlling spread of the disease.