Typhoid Mary Syndrome

Infectious diseases spread because sufferers are in denial. The old quarantine procedures recognized this and locked them up. But TB Andrew shows the procedures have fallen into disuse.

Typhoid Mary:

Mary Mallon, also known as Typhoid Mary, was the first person in the United States to be identified as a healthy carrier of typhoid fever. Over the course of her career as a cook, she infected 47 people, three of whom died from the disease. Her fame is in part due to her vehement denial of her own role in causing the disease, together with her refusal to cease working as a cook. She was forcibly quarantined twice by public health authorities and died in quarantine.

TB Andrew:

…a Georgia man with drug-resistant TB ignored doctors’ advice and took two trans-Atlantic flights, leading to the first U.S. government-ordered quarantine since 1963.

The man was identified yesterday as a 31-year-old Atlanta personal-injury lawyer whose father-in-law is a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) microbiologist specializing in the spread of TB and other bacteria.

Bob Cooksey would not comment on whether he reported his son-in-law, Andrew Speaker, to federal health authorities. He said only that he gave Mr. Speaker “fatherly advice” when he learned the young man had contracted the disease.

Mary and Andrew behaved selfishly and irresponsibly, but their denial of affliction is a normal human trait – how many times have you ignored an injury? That has survival value, since it helps you to get out of danger.

Of course it’s quite inappropriate when you carry infection, and TB Andrew has exposed the inadequacy of the US and Italian quarantine mechanisms – an inadequacy that’s the flip side of our victories over most infectious diseases.

But our victories are not permanent, so the CDC and its counterparts around the world should now get their acts together before the the next pandemic hits.

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