Typhoid fever is not a modern disease, except in developing countries with sanitation problems, particularly Africa. Now it’s come to San Francisco, via a new Typhoid Mary (or Matthew) who infected an unknown number of cafe patrons for five days starting on April 16. The original Mary was a cook.
Historically, typhoid fever has stricken armies whose commanders have lost control of their sanitation, a detail I used to dramatic effect in my Viet Nam war novel The Butterfly Rose. The bacterial disease is transmitted by food and water contaminated by the feces of a victim and can be fatal if patients don’t take all of their antibiotic even after they feel better. There’ve been vaccines to protect against it since World War II but, of course, vaccination is controversial among the enlightened of places like San Francisco.