Typhoid Mary: A Cautionary Tale | Eastern North Carolina Now

Lib Campbell: Above
    The story of Mary Mallon is a tale to ponder today, as we recover from a Pandemic that killed over a million people in this country. Mary Mallon was an Irish-born American who lived as a cook in New York City. Some say she was born a carrier of the bacteria that causes Typhoid Fever, since her mother was infected during her pregnancy with Mary.

    Mallon may be noted as one of the earliest recognized asymptomatic carriers of Salmonella typhi, the pathogen that causes Typhoid Fever. Because she became a cook for influential people in New York, over her career she also became a super spreader of the disease. 51 to 122 deaths are directly attributed to her between 1900 and 1907. She may not have known she was spreading disease, but others began taking note. She was forcibly quarantined and spent 30 years in isolation. It is said she never believed she was a carrier. Yet after her release from her last quarantine, even though she used aliases when being hired, those for whom she cooked died.

    I had to do a little research on Typhoid Mary, because of the experience that happened at our house recently. I thought I might be getting a cold. Runny nose. Tickle in my throat. So, the 50 clergywomen who were invited to my house came. It was a grand party with good food and fellowship. Everybody felt well as we wished each other love, peace, and joy. All was well.

    Midday the following day, cold symptoms were becoming annoying. On a whim, and because I had a leftover Covid Test Kit on the shelf and because our holiday plans were choc-a-block with people and parties and fun, I tested. Testing itself is a little unnerving. I imagine it's like taking a pregnancy test, which honestly would have caused me even more apprehension. As the second pink line crept across the stick it became clear I was positive for Covid.

    Givers and receivers we, I let my colleagues know. And I went into quarantine. Reality is, we live with all kinds of microbes - viruses, bacteria, other micro-organisms; pathogens among them. They mutate quickly, responding to changes in the biosphere around them. They were here before us, and they will be here long after us. (Same is true for the roaches.)

    Laurie Garrett begins her book, The Coming Plague, with a 1959 quote from Rene Dubos,

    "Any attempt to shape the world and modify human personality in order to create a self-chosen pattern in life involves many unknown consequences. Human destiny is bound to remain a gamble, because at some unpredictable time and in some unforeseeable manner, nature will strike back."

    Garrett ends her book with these words, "While the human race battles itself, fighting over ever more crowded turf and scarcer resources, the advantage moves to the microbes' court. They are our predators, and they will be victorious if we, Homo sapiens, do not learn how to live in a rational global village that affords microbes few opportunities."

    Adaptation and risk are two words I have carried around with me for the past two years. Life in a Covid, RSV, Seasonal Flu, Common Cold world is always a risk, unless we live in a bubble. So as viruses mutate we adapt as best we can. We are much slower to evolve and mutate than they.

    Masking will likely be part of the American experience for a long time. That said, my vaccinated and boosted self has been bold in dropping the mask and taking my chances. Truth is, I am the demographic that populated most of the morgues over the past two years. I am no more ready to die than were the million people who did die. Maybe I like living on the edge.

    The likely reason my Covid symptoms have been so mild is the fact that I am fully vaccinated and boosted. I don't want to give Covid to anybody and don't begrudge someone giving it to me. It is the season of giving after all. So, the caution of this tale is: get vaccinated, get a booster every time it is offered. Wash hands frequently. Thank those who work to create vaccines to meet an ever-changing viral landscape. And keep a Covid home test kit on the shelf just in case symptoms are unclear.

    One other thing. Don't eat Mary Mallon's cooking!

    Lib Campbell is a retired Methodist pastor, retreat leader and hosts the website: avirtualchurch.com. She welcomes comments at libcam05@gmail.com.
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