Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Fatal Fever

Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary
Gail Jarrow
Calkins Creek, 2015  176 pgs
Grades 4-8

Jarrow traces the path of this deadly disease in the early days of the twentieth century. Typhoid, a result of bacteria being ingested by the body, was often the cause of poor sanitary conditions or food being prepared by a cook with the infection on his or her hands. Such was the case with Mary Mallon. Mallon was a typhoid carrier, although she had no knowledge of this, and passed the deadly disease onto many of the household members of the various places in which she worked as a cook. Jarrow presents a brief history of the disease and its devastation on the American population. She traces what is known of Mary and the process in which the health authorities tracked the disease to this particular cook and forced her into isolation against her will for the protection of the public. Beyond the tragic life of Mallon, the disease itself and its effect on American culture is examined. Finally, with the advent of vaccinations and antibiotics, typhoid is brought under control in developed nations, although still presents a threat to the third world. The lives of other carriers, as well as famous people stricken by this disease are included briefly. A timeline, bibliography, author's note, source notes, list for further reading and index round out this extensively researched volume.

This is the second book I've read about Typhoid Mary published in 2015 for, more or less, the same audience. Both are well researched, well written and contain much of the same information. Jarrow's account is a bit glossier and sensational. She focuses a bit more on earlier epidemics leading to Typhoid Mary's discovery. Jarrow presents a well balanced and highly readable account of the facts. The reader will sympathize with Mary's plight and see how she really didn't understand that she was infected. This leads readers to the ethical question of whether it was the right to isolate Mary on an island off of Manhattan away from society. Fatal Fever would be great for classroom use, non-fiction book reports, book discussion, and pleasure reading. Both non-fiction and fiction readers will enjoy it. There is enough science to keep the non-fiction lovers happy and enough of a linear plot to keep the fiction lovers entertained. Jarrow points out that typhoid is still out in the world and emphasizes the importance of diligent hand washing. An author's note tells of Jarrow's process and how she became interested in the subject in the first place; hailing from Ithaca, New York, the site of a devastating typhoid outbreak previous to Mary's capture. The text is supplemented by generous illustrations and period photos on practicaly every page and the book itself is carefully and beautifully designed. Science, history, health, and a great story all rolled into one.

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