What We’re Researching: Typhoid Fever History

First typhoid inoculation at the U.S. Army Medical School.Recently we’ve been developing new material for our historical timelines. In the near future, we’re planning to add some entries on typhoid fever and the development of typhoid vaccines. In the meantime, we wanted to share a bit of what we’ve found.

First, some trivia about the woman who came to be known as Typhoid Mary: Her real name was Mary Mallon, and she infected more than 50 people with typhoid while working as a cook for wealthy New York families in the early 1900s. In all, Mary spent 26 years in quarantine as the first known healthy carrier of typhoid fever: someone who could carry and spread the typhoid bacteria to others, but not fall ill herself. She died still in quarantine on North Brother Island in 1938.

Typhoid was wreaking havoc long before Mary Mallon found her way to New York, however. In training camps alone, 1,590 soldiers died from typhoid at the beginning of the Spanish-American War. In contrast, there were only 280 battlefield deaths through the entire length of the conflict.

The arrival of a typhoid vaccine in the early 1900s had a profound effect on future military conflicts: among four million American soldiers in World War I, with vaccination in full use, there were only 227 typhoid deaths.

The photo shows the first typhoid vaccination at the U.S. Army Medical School in March, 1909. Watch for more typhoid photos and timeline entries in the coming weeks!