Typhoid fever is a disease pandemic in areas without a clean water supply. In the Victorian era, before plumbing was common, and in the Edwardian era, when poor and rural areas might still be relying on outhouses, the disease was a daily threat.
Public health campaigns encouraging people to wash their hands helped reduce the number of cases. So did the gradual replacement of horse-drawn vehicles with the automobile, eventually eliminating fecal matter in the streets. During World War One, soldiers were vaccinated against the disease, making it the first war in which deaths from combat were greater than from disease.
Typhoid is caused by bacteria and is spread through water or food contaminated by feces.
- Abdominal pain and digestive problems.
- Bloody nose
- Extreme fatigue
Sometimes people carry the disease but are asymptomatic, meaning they can spread the disease to others without being aware of it.
The best known of these carriers was Mary Mallon, otherwise known as Typhoid Mary.
Mallon was a cook who was linked to 53 cases, including three deaths, and was forcibly detained under quarantine.
Ironically, Mallon died of pneumonia, not typhoid.
Typhoid claimed the lives of many in the Victorian and Edwardian eras with a death rate of up to 30 percent.
Some notable people who died of the disease before 1920 include:
- Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert
- Many of the Boers confined in concentration camps during the Second Boer War
- Abigail Adams
- Wilbur Wright
- Franz Schubert
- Steven Douglas
- Theodore Roosevelt’s mother Martha Roosevelt
- The inventor of the Ferris Wheel, George Ferris II
- Abraham Lincoln’s son William
- William McKinley’s daughter Katherine
Today, typhoid fever is fairly uncommon in the developed world. However, in third world nations, there are still millions of cases annually.
Have you ever heard of Typhoid Mary? Leave a comment below.
Enjoyed reading this post? Join the mailing list and receive updates in your inbox whenever a new post is published. Simply enter your email address in the form on the bottom right of this page.