The Role of Chemistry in History

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Typhoid Fever

April 29th, 2008 · No Comments ·

Introduction | History | How It Works

Uses | Typhoid Fever | Side Effects

Synthetic Production | U.S. and the West


Chloramphenicol’s first and foremost use globally was originally to combat typhoid fever.

Ancient Greece

Chloramphenicol was perceived as a miracle cure for the illness because of its rapid success in treating the infection. It was introduced for clinical use in the United States in 1949 after Gottlieb discovered it in a strain of Streptomyces. After this initial introduction, Chloramphenicol spread throughout the West and eventually to the eastern world.
While Chloramphenicol first appeared in the mid-20th century, typhoid fever has existed since around 430 B.C. Caused by the bacterium Salmonella enterica servoar Tyhpi, typhoid occurred in Athens as a mysterious plague. The plague killed nearly one third of the population, including the Athenian leader, Pericles. At the time of the outbreak, the people of Attica were living in tents and Long Walls, promoting poor hygiene and poor public sanitation. Typhoid is mainly transmitted by fecal contaminated drinking water (not washing hands after going to the bathroom).

Typhoid Mary


In 1907, Mary Mallon, an Irish emigrant, was identified as the first asymptomatic carrier of typhoid fever. She had come to the U.S. in 1884 and worked as a cook in New York City from 1900 to 1907. Within two weeks of working in her first household, the residents came down with typhoid fever. The next family she worked for in Manhattan also fell ill, and one member died. In the third house she work for, seven of eight residents became sick with typhoid. The next house she was a cook for in Long Island experienced six cases of hospitalized typhoid in family of eleven. Mallon also infected three households after this.
Mallon was taken into custody by the New York City Health Department and she was quarantined for three years. She was released from quarantine under the condition that she would never again work with food; Mallon did not feel obliged to heed this condition and assumed the name “Mary Brown.” By 1915, after returning to her job as a cook, now at a New York hospital, Mallon had infected 25 more people, two of whom died from typhoid. Health officials returned Mallon to quaratine. Her second time in quaratine was also her last, she committed to quarantine for life.
Upon her death, due to pneumonia, an autopsy was conducted and typhoid bacteria were found in her gall bladder. Mallon was cremated.

Tags: Chloramphenicol