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“Typhoid Mary” reappears (1915)

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“Typhoid Mary” reappears

It is a great hardship that no better means than imprisonment or prolonged isolation has yet been found for dealing with such case as that of “Typhoid Mary,” who, through no fault of her own, is a constant menace to all about her.

There is something savoring of the old way of treating lepers in the conditions she was forced to live under for the space of three years, and may now be obliged to return to for a still longer period, possibly even for the remainder of her days.

In the case of such carriers of disease, the penalty seems the more intolerable for the reason that there is no regular provision for them, that they have no hospitals set apart to receive them, and that they themselves are not sufferers and stand in no need of any care for their own sakes. The one thing to be provided against is the danger to others. This danger is only potential, however, and may easily be minimized with proper care.

The sympathy which would naturally be granted to Mary Mallon is largely modified for this reason: The chance was given to her five years ago to live in freedom, and, if the Health Department is rightly informed, she deliberately elected to throw it away. The condition exacted of her was that she should give up the profession of cooking.

Not only did she fail to live up to her promise, but, according to the information in Dr Goldwater’s hands, she contrived under an assumed name to secure employment in the kitchen of the Sloane Maternity Hospital. Twenty five cases of typhoid fever occurred there after her coming, and there were two deaths. Then, it seems, she “mysteriously disappeared,” and it was with difficulty that the Health Department found and captured her.

If all this is true, it is impossible to feel much commiseration for her. Doubtless “Typhoid Mary,” herself a healthy woman and evidently not a wise one, does not believe in the danger of carriers. Doubtless there are others no wiser — there were many, and they were very noisy, when her case first came to public notice — who think it an outrage that her liberty should be interfered with. But the plan and obvious fact is that we have no way of dealing with these unlucky persona except by keeping them where they cannot do harm to others.

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Many epidemic outbreaks of typhoid fever have been traced indisputably to carriers. These may involve hundreds of people and cause many deaths. Are such sacrifices to be made on the score of individual liberty where we have to deal with persons that do not know how to make a reasonable use of their liberty?

It is unfortunate, no doubt, that no way has been found of disinfecting carriers, and that they sometimes continue to be dangerous even for as long as thirty or forty years. But so it is, and when the danger has been so clearly demonstrated as in the case of “Typhoid Mary,” there can be little doubt as to the right course to follow.

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