Friday, 27 March 2020


Remanded to quarantine for the second and final time (she would remain in isolation for the rest of her life) on this day in 1915, Irish-born cook Mary Mallon (*1869 – †1938)—also known as Typhoid Mary, was the first individual clinically identified as an asymptomatic carrier of a disease.
Persisting working as a domestic for affluent families in New York state (and why wouldn’t she resist calls from authorities to quit her profession if she was in good health herself, albeit precedent-setting), Mallon infected at least fifty-one people with typhoid fever, an ailment caused by exposure to a particularly pernicious strain of Samonella bacteria, at least three of them fatally. Mallon was returned to confinement on North Brother Island, in the East River between the prison Rikers Island and the Bronx mainland, having earned her sobriquet during her first three-year stint and subsequently became a minor celebrity for her stubbornness, unrepentant behaviour (she was retrained as a laundress, considered a safer job, but returned to cooking because the pay was better) and with what was sometimes portrayed as victimhood in the face of public health and medical science—mingled, conflated surely with stereotype and xenophobia. The hospital closed shortly after her death and the island is today a seabird sanctuary.