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.
And another solution: try to create immunity before the disease takes hold.
One of the tales Jarrow tells is about a wealthy family in Oyster Bay. Here's Radio Lab's take on the event.
Except in cases of disaster, we rarely see typhoid. On the other hand, we do have a new highly infectious disease spreading rampantly from person to person: Ebola. Reading Jarrow's book you see connections between the 1900 typhoid epidemic and our current need for better public health control of Ebola - not to mention the flu, SARS, measles, and other diseases.
website. She seems to be working up a series on "deadly diseases".... And check out another review of this book over at Abby the Librarian.
Today we're joining the roundup over at the Nonfiction Monday blog where you'll find even more book reviews.
Shannon Messenger's blog. Hop over to see what other people are reading.
Book Giveaway This is such a great book that I want to pass on my nearly-new copy ~ so leave a comment and I'll choose a winner sometime next week. Review copy provided by publisher.