Typhoid Fever: A Consequence of Contaminated Water

Typhoid fever quarantine sign

Typhoid Fever: A Consequence of Contaminated Water

A public service message on typhoid fever prevention
A public service message on typhoid fever prevention

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, in areas that still relyed 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 those from disease.

Symptoms

Typhoid fever quarantine sign
Typhoid fever quarantine sign

Typhoid is caused by bacteria and is spread through water or food contaminated by feces.

Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Abdominal pain and digestive problems
  • Rash
  • 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.

Typhoid Mary

Mary Mallon, also known as Typhoid Mary
Mary Mallon, also known as Typhoid Mary

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 twice.

After the first detention, Mallon promised to stop working as a cook.  However, she was discovered working under an assumed name for a hospital, and she fled when health department officials confronted her.  Her second detention last more than 20 years until her death in 1938.

Ironically, Mallon died of pneumonia, not typhoid.

Famous Deaths

A cartoon showing the best way to tame the beast of typhoid is prevention
A cartoon showing the best way to tame the beast of typhoid is prevention

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.

Updated: 14 August 2018

Melina Druga
Most kids have an active imagination. My imagination has stayed strong into adulthood, and I’ve funneled that creativity into a successful writing career. I write history, both fiction and nonfiction, because although your school history classes may have been boring, the past is not. My goal is to bring the past to life in all its myriad of colors.
Back To Top