Understanding Responses to the Disease through History and Fiction

Cite this

Mary Mallon, an Irish woman, was born in Ireland in 1869. She migrated to the United States by 15, where she became a cook for a wealthy family. Mary Mallon cooked for eight families, seven of whom were infected with typhoid. In 1901, she cooked for a family in Manhattan, New York, where all the family members got infected, and even one of them died. Everywhere Mary worked, members of the family, or servants of the family, complained of fever and diarrhea after that. In 1906, Mary worked in the house of Walter Brown in Park Avenue, New York. All the maids got sick where soon after, Charles Warren’s only daughter manifested with fever and diarrhea and eventually died. This was the case that helped George Soper (investigator hired by Warren) to solve the issue. She found out that Mary Mallon was a commonality; in a sense, wherever the outbreak is, Mary was there working. Mary was confronted with such misfortunes and was asked for a stool sample, which Mary refused to give.

Cut 15% OFF your first order
We’ll deliver a custom Epidemiology paper tailored to your requirements with a good discount
Use discount
322 specialists online

Mary was arrested and, therefore, was forced to provide examples. The results showed a massive amount of typhoid bacteria present in Mary’s stool, suggesting that the center of infection was the gallbladder (Schroeder, 2020). She ended up being quarantined, where she was tasked to give urine and stool samples 3x a week. Daily examinations were done on the cook for two weeks, where the cook later appeared to be in good health. Before reading the book, the term Typhoid Mary, in my opinion, meant a transmitter of any undesirable and harmful thing that was not perceived well by other people. I thought it also meant a cast fellow in the society who was not supposed to interact with others.

Soper’s Description and Keene’s Fictional Description

Soper’s fictional description can be described as a consistent approach as it recognizes the various meaning of terms and clarifies by presenting a particular point of view in the philosophical sense of showing what must be assumed if one wants consistency in the concepts they employ. Keene’s fictional account helps the reader understand Mary’s perspective since it contributed to new medical and social categories and how the two mutually influence each other. More details of her background and behavior are brought up as the story unfolds, connecting them with the infectious disease. The report also describes medical and legal establishments in determining the treatment and the representation of the more enormous implications of health carriers, hence helping to know medicalized understanding of social and being and control. The case of Mary brought many exciting problems, one being whether the city had the right to deprive her liberty for her whole life. Preventive measures are to be employed in preventing the disease rather than practicing the lifetime isolation method.

Social Determinants of Health

Social determinants of health describe the conditions that people are born, grow, live and work in that in return shape their health. The social determinants of health factors include social-economic status, education, employment, and social support network. Addressing these issues improves health and reduces longstanding disparities in healthcare (Siegesmund, 2016). Ways of managing the social health problems include models under the Center for Medicare and managed care plans where providers participate in identifying social needs. Medicaid innovation is also another way of solving social need problems.

Historically, typhoid was seen as a ‘poor’ disease which affected everyone from the top of society to the very bottom of it. The poor and uneducated generally lived in conditions that aided the spread of disease – lacking clean water, working with animals, and not being in the position to access proper health care were just a few of these factors. In the early 1900s, typhoid was the ‘hot topic,’ and due to its pervasiveness, it was called a “disease of defective civilization, disease of dirt, poverty, and national carelessness” (Schroeder, 2020, p. 11). Mary’s behavior was influenced mainly by poverty. Due to her low income, she could not afford the standard of maintaining good health, such as proper diet (clean food and water) and a clean environment, hence her infection. Again due to her poverty, she could not get appropriate treatment from the public health community but ended up being forced to be quarantined and forced surgical operation.

Fictional Details aiming to Engender Empathy for Mary

There are several fictional details used in the story that brings empathy for Mary as a weak woman. She is an Irish woman who is described as soft and non-communicative, and according to Soper’s description, he underscores her departure from conventional norms of white feminity.“Those who knew her best in the long years of her custody said that Mary walked more like a man than a woman and her mind had masculinity character” (Siegesmund, 2016, p. 64). She is also naughty when she refuses to submit to medical authority after refusing to respect surgical interference. The above happened after the suggestion of removal of her gall bladder to cure his condition, but it is later acknowledged that the gall bladder is not the only source of typhoid bacillus. There is great empathy for her since her rights are violated. She is identified by the disease she carries and forced to undergo a surgical operation that does not necessarily cure the disease. Her disobedience is never mentioned, but instead, the great focus is on the dangerous conditions of her occupation and social position.

The Reasons Why Mary Never Stopped Cooking

Despite the education given to Mary about typhoid transmission, she never stopped cooking. According to Soper, Mary being an Irish immigrant, the only available job that was well paying was cooking, and she could only do that to earn her living. Regardless, the difficulty of the Irish to get what was seen as “good” jobs in America left them at the bottom of the occupational hierarchy. The Irish’s tendency to live in poorer areas (due to their occupations, or lack thereof), grouped with their countrymen, contributed to their reputation as unsatisfactory, diseased, and lazy (Nik Abeed et al., 2021). If poor women looked for work to support themselves or their families, they generally had two options: factory work or domestic service. As a single, poor, Irish-born woman, Mallon did not have the luxury of not working when she came to America. She got a job as soon as she arrived and worked for as long as she could.

On-Time Delivery!
Get your customized and 100% plagiarism-free paper done in as little as 3 hours
Let’s start
322 specialists online

Mallon was fine and never showed any symptoms of typhoid. It was not easy for a healthy person to accept that she had the disease, yet she was okay with no signs of a sick person. This again made it difficult for her to stop working and isolate herself from a disease she never thought of having. Germ theory was in its infancy, and being a new disease, it was difficult for people to accept its reality. Many, especially Mary, a poor immigrant who did not know about any germ disease, were unfamiliar. Prevention methods were still not known, and a standard method of avoiding it was regularly washing hands. This practice was not common among the cooks and failed to spread the disease at a higher rate. Another thing that made Mary keep working was the lack of trust that her gall bladder was the center of infection and had to be removed by professional doctors (Schroeder, 2020). This would limit her ability to work, hence ceasing to work as it was a life-endangering surgery at that time.

The reasons mentioned above are the same reasons making people currently not get vaccinated against the coronavirus. The claims given are that the vaccines will bring forth adverse effects though there is no proof to support the claims. Those who do not wear face masks also give excuses that it is strange that they are not used to and complain of being uncomfortable once they have their mouth covered with a show. The ignorance of these measures set aside to prevent COVID-19 has led to an accelerated infection rate.

Addressing COVID-19 using Historical and Fictional Accounts

There are many lessons addressed in the novel that currently help in the prevention of corona disease. The ways discussed by Soper and Keane in reducing the spread of typhoid are relevant today and can be used in enlightening people on how to keep away from Corona infection. To treat typhoid, the carriers were identified by using laboratory testing where the results could reveal the infected and begin treatment immediately. This is applicable today where people can visit healthcare institutions to get tested against corona and, if found infected, take the necessary precaution such as washing hands regularly before handling food as directed by the doctors. This will reduce the chances of Corona infection among people.

Those with signs and symptoms of typhoid were quarantined as they underwent treatment. This helped in preventing infecting healthy people. The infected had their families inoculated against the particular strain of the typhoid germ, where special precautions were done against the bacilli transmission in the family. This method is applicable now where quarantining of infected people is done and creating awareness on ways of managing the pandemic. Strict adherence to the rules has reduced the spread of the killer disease.

Contribution of Historical Primary Sources towards Mitigating Epidemics

Historians have done a lot of research about epidemics, and valuable lessons can be used from their conclusion. The four-act model is a great aid that is useful when facing any pandemic. It involves four acts and what each activity entails. The first act is a progressive revelation involving members acknowledging an increasing number of infected cases. Managing randomness is the second act, and here intellectual framework is created, creating knowledge on the cause and spread of the epidemic. Act three is negotiating public response where collective action is taken. The last one is subsidence and retrospection, and here public health management begins epidemic preparedness planning. In such cases, the government should recognize the capacity for the international spread of disease and provide quarantine centers, equitable access to health care resources, balance individual rights, and revisit the past ways used to contain the pandemic.

Get a custom-written paper
For only $13.00 $11/page you can get a custom-written academic paper according to your instructions
Let us help you
322 specialists online


When contemplating pandemics, it is crucial to understand that historical lessons help devise appropriate strategies to mitigate the spread of microbial threats and epidemics. The advancement of technology has also helped manage pandemics and epidemics through advanced knowledge in virology, modern computing, epidemic modeling, and screening. When contemporary and historical perspectives are used to solve the problem, there will be reduced alarm of pandemics due to the knowledge available to the people about the same.


Nik Abeed, N. N., Abdul Hamid, M. F., Soo, C. I., Low, H. J., & Ban, Y. L. A. (2020). “What happens when we treat the “Typhoid Mary” of COVID‐19?” Respirology Case Reports, 8(6), 119-136. Web.

Schroeder, B. (2020). Finding Typhoid Mary: Identifying Latent Carriers of Salmonella Enterica Serovar Typhimurium (Doctoral dissertation, Virginia Tech). Web.

Siegesmund, A. (2016). “Teaching epidemiology and principles of infectious disease using popular media and the case of Typhoid Mary.” Course Sourse, (52/53), 181-216. Web.

Cite this paper

Select style


NursingBird. (2022, October 30). Understanding Responses to the Disease through History and Fiction. Retrieved from https://nursingbird.com/understanding-responses-to-the-disease-through-history-and-fiction/


NursingBird. (2022, October 30). Understanding Responses to the Disease through History and Fiction. https://nursingbird.com/understanding-responses-to-the-disease-through-history-and-fiction/

Work Cited

"Understanding Responses to the Disease through History and Fiction." NursingBird, 30 Oct. 2022, nursingbird.com/understanding-responses-to-the-disease-through-history-and-fiction/.


NursingBird. (2022) 'Understanding Responses to the Disease through History and Fiction'. 30 October.


NursingBird. 2022. "Understanding Responses to the Disease through History and Fiction." October 30, 2022. https://nursingbird.com/understanding-responses-to-the-disease-through-history-and-fiction/.

1. NursingBird. "Understanding Responses to the Disease through History and Fiction." October 30, 2022. https://nursingbird.com/understanding-responses-to-the-disease-through-history-and-fiction/.


NursingBird. "Understanding Responses to the Disease through History and Fiction." October 30, 2022. https://nursingbird.com/understanding-responses-to-the-disease-through-history-and-fiction/.