TYPHOID FEVER - THE DEADLY BACTERIAL DISEASE THAT KILLED MILLIONS IN VICTORIAN BRITAIN
Typhoid fever is a bacterial disease transmitted by the ingestion of food or water contaminated with the feces of an infected person.
Without prompt treatment, it can cause serious complications and can be fatal. It is caused by a bacterium called Salmonella typhi, which is related to the bacteria that cause salmonella food poisoning.
The impact of this disease fell sharply in the developed world with the application of 20th-century sanitation techniques, but in Victorian Britain it was a illness that killed millions.
The symptoms of typhoid fever are divided into four stages, each lasting approximately a week, with the patient becoming increasingly exhausted and emaciated.
The first stage is flu-like symptoms, including high temperature, headache, cough and cramps, moving on to a feverish delirium and a rash on the abdomen in the second week.
By the third week the disease can cause abscesses, severe dehydration, increased delirium and intestinal bleeding, but by the fourth week the fever gradually subsides and symptoms lessen.
The most notorious carrier of typhoid fever—but by no means the most destructive—was Mary Mallon, also known as Typhoid Mary. In 1907, she became the first American carrier to be identified and traced.
She was a cook in New York. She is closely associated with fifty-three cases and three deaths.
Public health authorities told Mary to give up working as a cook or have her gall bladder removed. Mary quit her job but returned later under a false name. She was detained and quarantined after another typhoid outbreak. She died of pneumonia after 26 years in quarantine.
Because of the way the infection is spread, typhoid fever is most common in parts of the world that have poor levels of sanitation and limited access to clean water. Typhoid fever is uncommon in the UK, with an estimated 500 cases occurring each year. Most of these people are thought to have developed the infection while visiting relatives in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.
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