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 relied 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 I, soldiers were vaccinated against the disease, making it the first war in which deaths from combat were greater than those 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 twice.
After the first detention, Mallon promised to stop working as a cook. However, she found a job working for a hospital under an assumed name, and when health department officials confronted her, she fled.
Her second detention last more than 20 years until her death in 1938. 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.
Updated: 26 October 2020
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