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Just a Bite - Waiting for patient zero
Lisa Hobbs, new mugshot.jpg

Everyone in Warren County is impatiently waiting patient zero. As I write this column on Friday, I’m wondering if we’ll have that first case announced before this goes into our Sunday edition. Hopefully, we will not.

I think everyone has mixed emotions about being patient zero in their community. It has a negative connotation to it. I understand it, but it shouldn’t be that way. Patient zero refers to the first documented patient in a disease epidemic within a population. You are simply the first confirmed case and not to blame for spreading it to the rest of the population. 

However, don’t be a Typhoid Mary. If you think you have it, tested or not, isolate yourself. If you think you’ve been exposed, isolate yourself. 

Typhoid Mary was actually Mary Mallon. She was the first person in the United States identified as an asymptomatic carrier of the pathogen associated with typhoid fever. She was presumed to have infected some 51 people, three of whom died, over the course of her career as a cook. 

Mary was born in 1869 in Ireland and immigrated to the U.S. in 1884. As a healthy carrier of Salmonella typhi her nickname of Typhoid Mary has become synonymous with the spread of disease, as many were infected due to her denial of being ill. At that time, typhoid fever was still fatal in 10 percent of cases.

Mary was forced into quarantine by public health authorities on two separate occasions on North Brother Island for a total of 26 years. 

In 1909, she unsuccessfully sued the health department. She was eventually released under an agreement not to work as a cook. However, giving the name Mary Brown, she was hired as a cook of Sloane Maternity in Manhattan. Over three months, she contaminated 25 people, doctors, nurses and staff. Two of them died. 

Mary was forced back into quarantine. She remained there until her death in 1938. 

The story of Typhoid Mary is an interesting and amazingly sad read for anyone who cares to look into it. I did find one report that said was never confined. I find that hard to believe, but I wasn’t there so… maybe.  

I looked into Typhoid Mary only because COVID-19 and someone I knew announced that they “don’t have it” and that assumption was based solely on the fact they felt fine. According to health officials, symptoms take four days to two weeks to appear. Stating that you don’t have it because you feel fine sounds like Typhoid Mary behavior. Don’t be that guy. 

DeKalb and Grundy counties received their first reported cases last week. I wonder who patient zero was in those counties. We may never know.

Standard reporter Lisa Hobbs can be reached at 473-2191.