“Adopting one of the most far-reaching vaccination laws in the nation, California on Tuesday barred religious and other personal-belief exemptions for schoolchildren, a move that could affect tens of thousands of students and sets up a potential court battle with opponents of immunization…Public health officials said a proliferation of waivers, many sought because of unfounded concerns about the safety of vaccines, helped fuel a measles outbreak that started at Disneyland in December, and quickly spread across the West, infecting 150 people.” -- from the Los Angeles Times, 30 June 2015 “Fever in the morning Fever all through the night” -- Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell (1956) “[Sanitary engineer George A. Soper] felt certain that he had gathered enough epidemiological evidence to prove that Mary was spreading the killer disease. At this point, however, the evidence that Mary Mallon caused typhoid wherever she worked was circumstantial. The fact that she happened to work at places where typhoid fever broke out did not prove that she caused the outbreaks. The outbreaks may have been a coincidence. The fact that Mary escaped the illness wasn’t proof either. Nor was the fact that she left her employment soon after typhoid broke out. But these facts--and her behavior--convinced Soper that Mary Mallon was ‘a menace to the public health.’ The circumstantial nature of the evidence did not deter him. ‘As a matter of fact, I did not need the specimens [of her urine, feces, and blood] in order to prove that Mary was a focus of typhoid germs,’ he said. ‘My epidemiological evidence had proved that’ Soper was wrong. He did need the specimens. As scientists and statisticians know, correlation does not imply causation. So far, he had only established a pattern that put Mary at the scene of the outbreaks. He needed the specimens to prove that Mary had caused the outbreaks.” Imagine feeling perfectly healthy and having some stranger come up to you, tell you that you are a public health menace to society, and demand that you immediately provide him specimens of your urine, feces, and blood. Having been hired in 1906 by the owner of a seaside rental home to resolve the issue of a typhoid outbreak at the dwelling, sanitary engineer George Soper, who was neither medical doctor, health professional, nor scientist, tracked down, spied on, and confronted Mary Mallon, who had recently been a cook at that seaside rental property. Soper insisted that Mary provide him specimens. When he did not receive the response he desired, Soper persuaded the New York City Board of Health to arrest and forcibly obtain those specimens from Mary Mallon.
In TERRIBLE TYPHOID MARY, author Susan Campbell Bartoletti takes readers on a roller coaster ride. We initially empathize as we read how “Typhoid Mary ” was treated. Mary was a thirty-something Irish immigrant with no family or friends to come to her rescue. She’d been working nonstop since arriving in America as a young teenager. After George Soper contacted them, the NYC Board of Health had a doctor and a bunch of policemen tackle Mary, shove her in a horse-drawn ambulance, and lock her up in a quarantine hospital. (The author shares a lively, detailed, first-hand account of the fight to take Mary into custody.) Since she was given no due process as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, it is easy to view Mary’s treatment as a governmental kidnapping. The Board of Health had no idea what to do with her, so they just locked her up: “Mary had committed no crime, yet here she was, kidnapped, surrounded by sick people, cut off from the outside world, and forced to submit to medical tests. She had no idea how long the hospital intended to hold her.” We eventually have to reexamine our initial judgments when increasing evidence suggests that Mary Mallon was, in fact, responsible for infecting large numbers of people. The Board of Health determined through lab tests that Mary was a healthy carrier of typhoid. When, after several years, she finally obtained her freedom through a contractual agreement with the Department of Health, she seems to have subsequently infected a lot more people before she was once again locked away. Public health versus individual rights: That’s what we’ve been debating here in California as this new immunization law was working its way through the system. In telling the story of Susan Campbell Bartoletti has done a great job of framing TERRIBLE TYPHOID MARY within a similar public policy versus individual rights debate. It provides readers a great American history tale and leaves them with plenty to think about.
240 pages 978-0-544-31367-5 Ages 12-15
Recommended by: Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA See more of his book recommendations: Richie's Picks (http://richiespicks.com/)