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Typhoid Disease: Mary Mallon Quarantine Case Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Jun 10th, 2020

Introduction

Mary Mallon was a good cook, a loyal servant who had worked for over ten families in the New York. Her hard work earned her respect and love in these families. In many cases, she would be promoted to head all the other employees in these homes. Mary Mallon knew how to prepare some of the best delicacies. However, when typhoid struck the city, investigators realized that there was something peculiar with Mary in relevance to this disease.

In eight families she had worked for within six years, seven of them suffered from typhoid, but she was never affected (Jacobsen, 2008). This caused concern to George Soper, the investigator, who believed that she was a typhoid carrier. He recommended that she should be quarantined as a way of protecting others. In this paper, the researcher seeks to justify the fact that authorities were correct when they quarantined Mary.

Discussion

In the early 1900, typhoid was one of the most dreaded diseases in the United States of America. Although the medical experts were able to establish that unhygienic conditions helped in the spread of the disease, it was not yet clear what the cause of the disease was. George Soper, a young self-proclaimed typhoid researcher, was called in to help with the investigation. He started his investigations by interviewing a rich family living in the suburbs of New York.

Six members of this wealthy family were suffering from this disease that was then associated with the poor. This, to Soper, was a mystery worth resolving. Soper interviewed the family and realized that Mary Mallon was their immediate former cook, and she had left her job here to work for another family. Soper developed an interest in investigating Mary’s activities. From his research, he realized that out of the eight families she had worked for, seven of them suffered from the disease within a short period of six years.

When Soper finally found her working for another family, it was revealed that some members of the family were already suffering from typhoid. Soper requested her to take a medical test to determine if she was a healthy carrier of the disease. The researcher was convinced that Mary was a typhoid carrier, but she refused this fact. In 1907 after it was confirmed that almost every family she worked for suffered from the disease, the authorities decided to quarantine her.

Her first quarantine started in 1907 to 1910. When she was released and instructed not to work as a cook, she defied the order, changed her name and continued working as a cook. The same trend continued where every family she worked for suffered from the disease. She kept changing jobs quite often to escape from the authorities. In 1915, she was arrested once again and quarantined till her death in 1938.

Justification of the quarantine

When Mary was first arrested, she defended herself saying that she shared her rooms with children and never infected them. She did not understand the cause of the disease, just like many Americans at that time. There was a dilemma putting Mary under quarantine. She was an American citizen who had not committed any crime. Just like any other American, she was entitled to her freedom of movement, and the state had no right to deny her this. She was a hardworking employee who won the trust of almost all her employers. She had no malice, in fact, she was not even aware that she was a healthy carrier of the disease.

The government had the moral authority to quarantine Mary. After investigations were concluded, it was established that she had live typhoid bacteria in her gallbladder. It was also established that her hygiene was poor. This meant that when she visited the toilet, she could easily cause an outbreak in case she handled food. This had caused several deaths of innocent Americans. Many more had undergone pain and suffering due to this. The authorities believed that the only way to stop this would be to quarantine her (Bourdain, 2005). After three years, the authorities realized that being a carrier is not a criminal offence.

No one may wish to be a carrier to such a deadly disease, and this led to her release. She was told that her gallbladder would be eliminated to make her free of the bacteria, an offer she rejected. She was, therefore, instructed to look for an alternative career. However, she went back to being a cook, knowing that she posed danger to these families. She continued infecting families, but this did not bother her.

Conclusion

In the first quarantine of 1907-1910, the authorities were concerned about the rights of Mary. However, the second quarantine was very justified. She was a threat to the society and in fact, she was described as America’s most dangerous woman at that time. She knew that she had the capacity to spread the disease. However, she made no effort to stop the spread. This justified the quarantine.

References

Bourdain, A. (2005). Typhoid Mary. London: Bloomsbury. Web.

Jacobsen, K. H. (2008). Introduction to global health. Sudbury: Jones and Bartlett Publishers. Web.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Typhoid Disease: Mary Mallon Quarantine Case'. 10 June.

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