Fatal Fever ~ Tracking Down Typhoid Mary

fatalfeverWe must all have the same reading list, because Abby the Librarian posted a great review of this book last week. It’s definitely a book you want to read yourself.

Fatal Fever ~ Tracking Down Typhoid Mary
by Gail Jarrow
192 pages; ages 10 & up
Calkins Creek, 2015

I love a good mystery – especially when it’s true. And this is a mystery. A medical mystery. It involves villains (germs) and disease detectives, victims and suspects.

I love how it begins:

Early on a damp March morning in 1907, Mary Mallon answered the knock at the servant’s entrance of a New York brownstone house. She took one look at the visitors and lunged at them with her sharp fork. As they flinched, she ran toward the kitchen.

Mary hides in a closet. What she doesn’t know is that inside of her there are billions of deadly microorganisms hiding, too. They are typhoid bacteria.

What we learn about Mary is that she is, by some fluke of nature, a typhoid carrier. She’s never had symptoms of the disease, and so can’t believe that she carries the germs inside her.

We meet the detectives: doctors, scientists, and public health officials trying to stop the spread of this deadly disease. “In 1900,” writes Jarrow, “it struck nearly 400,000 Americans, and more than 35,000 died.” It ranked with influenza, tuberculosis, and pneumonia up there in the top five fatal infectious diseases.

At the turn of the last century, nobody understood how typhoid was spread or where it came from. But they did know that it could be passed from one person to the next. College students died. Parents died. Entire families got sick. People were scared. How could they control the spread of this disease?

One solution: quarantine sick people. Isolate them so they don’t contaminate others. But how do you do that when they run and hide? And is it possible to keep these people out of your community?

Another solution: find out how the disease is spread and address environmental issues such as sewage and water. Or maybe create immunity before the disease takes hold by developing a vaccine.

Here’s Radio Lab’s story about Typhoid affecting a family at Oyster Bay, NY.

Nonfiction Monday

It’s Nonfiction Monday!

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