Avoiding Typhoid Mary

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Avoiding Typhoid Mary

Have you heard of Typhoid Mary? Mary Mallon or Mary Brown (she used both names) worked as a cook and harbored the typhoid bacteria in her gallbladder.  Wherever she worked, the families in those households became sick. Many died, but Mary herself never became ill. 

Mary Contributed to 51 Deaths

Authorities believed that Mary was the cause of 51 deaths from typhoid.  They met with her and explained that she probably carried the germ in her gallbladder.  When asked to stop working as a cook voluntarily, Mary refused because she did not believe in the germ theory.  She asked, “I’ve never been sick. How can I be a carrier?”  

Alas, since circumstantial evidence pointed clearly to Mary as the cause of death in so many cases, authorities took her into custody. She refused to give stool or urine samples to prove her innocence or guilt. 

Refused to Take Blood Test for Typhoid

After months/years in jail, she finally agreed to stop cooking if they would release her.  Upon her release, she began work as a laundress, but her income dropped significantly.  Within a short time, she moved, changed her name to Mary Brown and resumed her prior career as a cook.  The death toll began to rise again. 

Worked with Typhoid Under an Alias

With each death crisis, she moved to stay away before the authorities could arrest her. She followed this practice until her death. Authorities finally proved what they suspected all along after her death by performing the tests previously requested but denied. The blood work proved without a doubt that Mary Mallon carried the typhoid bacteria in her gallbladder and was the direct link in all the reported deaths.

People Believe It’s Necessary to Come to Work Sick

The moral of this story:  Just because you don’t believe something is true doesn’t mean it isn’t. Mary didn’t believe she was a carrier, but she was.  She continued to come to work every day exposing others to her germs and making them sick. People do the same today. They come to work with active cold or flu symptoms, fevers, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting touching doorknobs, handrails, and other shared surfaces, sharing their germs with others.

They come because they/their

  • need the income. 
  • don’t want to get in trouble with their employer for missing a day of work.
  • work ethic tells them that they need to work if they can still stand up.
  • being at home is more uncomfortable than being at work.
  • come for any number of personal reasons exposing the rest of us to their germs.
Public Areas Is Like Walking in a Sea of Germs

Much of the time when out in public, I feel that I am moving about in a sea of Typhoid Mary’s—carriers of malicious germs, appearing perfectly healthy, totally unaware that they are harboring death-producing organisms, that could jump/run/fly/spring/or swim from their bodies to my own and then from mine to my immunocompromised spouse.

Hospital Staff come to work Sick

After being out in the world touching dirty doorknobs, passing through the spray of sneeze spray and coughed out air filled with germs, picking up any number of items touched by people with any number of still living viruses, bacteria, or fungus, I feel like I’ve walked through a swamp without personal protective equipment.  To venture out into this world during the winter, I feel like I need a hazmat suit because it’s become a badge of honor in some workplaces to come to work sick.  Even in some healthcare facilities, I’ve seen staff walking around wiping their noses on their sleeves when gloved up or sneezing into the crook of their arm just before entering my spouse’s room.  I sit waiting for them to sneeze on him and give him their germs.

Why Don’t Hospital Encourage Sick Staff to Stay Home?

Have you ever been a patient in a hospital in the winter and noted how many hospital staff come to work sick? I’m sure many get sick from their patients which indicate a need for a refresher for handwashing and using masks but why don’t hospitals promote keeping people out of work if they are sick rather than working sick? I know staffing is an issue.  It’s hard to maintain staffing levels where they need to be, and that’s certainly an issue to consider but here’s a suggestion to follow. If you are a patient in a healthcare facility and someone sick comes in to care for you, protect yourself.

  1. Ask, “Have you washed your hands?” Every person who touches you or your things is supposed to wash their hands before touching you or your stuff.
  2. If they are visibly sick, you can also ask them to put on a mask. Each patient care area has a supply area that has masks available. Therefore, if someone is coughing or sneezing and enters your room, you can ask them to mask, gown, and glove if you feel they have been contaminating their clothing or might contaminate you.  You might get a little pushback on the gown if they are not going to come in contact with your body so don’t push too hard on that one unless they are assisting you with a move, but masks are a definite for any time they are in the room.
  3. If the individual refuses to use a mask or wash their hands/wear gloves for procedures, ask to speak to an administrator or supervisor. Each facility has someone in charge of each shift. Usually, on weekdays it’s a manager, and on off shifts, it’s a supervisor or administrator type.
Stay Home If You’re Sick

Look out for yourself and the one for whom you’re providing care.  Too many people think a cold is no big deal or as long as they can “make it” then they’re not hurting anyone else if they come into work or are doing a good thing rather than a bad thing.  People don’t realize how many others they put at risk when they expose weaken immune systems to germs and it’s our place to politely educate and remind to keep our families and loved ones safe.

 

Reference:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3959940/   

Annals of Gastroenterology, Mary Mallon (1869-1938) and the history of typhoid fever

Filio MarineliGregory TsoucalasMarianna Karamanou, and George Androutsos

This article originally appeared on Multiplesclerosis.Net by Health-Union, LLC and has been reposted with permission.

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