By Dr. Anthony Policastro

Many of us have heard of the person known as Typhoid Mary. Mary Mallon was a cook who was a carrier of typhoid fever. In the early 1900s she worked as a domestic cook moving from house to house. Where she went typhoid followed. 

Ultimately she was the direct cause of 51 cases of typhoid fever with three deaths. There were also secondary cases from those 51 patients that were too numerous to count.

We know Tubercular V.N. Tuberculosis (TB) is a contagious disease. It occurs when someone with the disease coughs or sneezes in the vicinity of an uninfected individual. In the old days, there was no treatment. People were often put into a hospital and left until they died from the disease.

As late at the 1950s there were about 100,000 new cases of TB each year. Even when I was a medical student in the 1960s E Building at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn had only TB patients. There was even one entire floor of the building devoted to children with TB.

The interns and residents in the medical buildings knew that if they found TB in a patient, that patient would be transferred to E Building and no longer be under their care. That was one less patient. So they were diligent about looking for the diagnosis.

I learned a lot about TB in my rotations there as a medical student. When I was a Pediatric intern in Boston, we had a patient come in with meningitis. I did a stain of the spinal fluid and found TB bacteria. My resident didn’t believe it. So he denied it. Five weeks later the culture came back showing TB. Then we started treating the patient at that point.

By 2021 there were 7,882 new cases nationwide. That is a drastic drop. It is due to a number of factors. They include more efficient diagnosis. They include more effective treatment. They include better follow up of patients.

Tubercular VN is a woman who lives in Washington State. She was diagnosed with TB and medication was prescribed. She refused to take the medication. That made her a danger to anyone she contacted.

For that reason a court order was obtained to force her to take the medication. She doesn’t feel it is her responsibility to protect others from herself. Why should she be forced to do something like take medication to protect others?

She is currently in contempt of court for not showing up and an arrest warrant has been issued. But she is nowhere to be found. She is just out spreading her TB bacteria to other unsuspecting people. Sometimes, the public good supersedes individual rights. This is an example of that.

Typhoid Mary lived 100 years ago. However, there are clearly some people who still do not understand public health measures and the protection of others from them.