MySci Round-Up, September 23: Happy B-Day, Typhoid Mary

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On this day in 1869, Mary Mallon was born in County Tyrone, Ireland. As a teenager, Mallon emigrated to the U.S. According to a biography of her by Judith Walzer Leavitt, Mallon was skilled in the kitchen, and eventually found employment as a live-in cook for affluent families in New York City. Unfortunately for those who ate food that she prepared, Mallon’s body harbored the bacterium that causes typhoid fever, an unpleasant affliction characterized by fevers, abdominal pain and severe diarrhea. It is not known how she herself became infected, but one theory is that the bacterium was passed to her by her mother. Mallon, who denied ever having had typhoid fever, probably was one of the three percent of people infected with the bacteria who are asymptomatic. But she could still pass the infection to others. Additionally, she handled food and 
apparently was somewhat less than diligent in washing her hands after using the bathroom, which made her the perfect medium for spreading the infection to her unsuspecting clients.

Between 1900 and 1907, according to Leavitt, Mallon infected 22 people in various New York households by serving them puddings and cakes tainted with typhoid bacteria. All of them became seriously ill, and one died from disease complications. After public health investigators realized that Mallon was the common denominator in those cases, the immigrant was arrested and quarantined on the grounds of a hospital on an island in the East River. Newspapers vilified her as “Typhoid Mary,” and depicted her in cartoons as a ghoul cracking skulls instead of eggs into her skillet. Nevertheless, after three years, officials agreed to release her, on condition that she change her profession to laundress.

But Mallon preferred cooking, and probably found it difficult to make enough money to live any other way. So she quietly returned to the kitchen, using an assumed name. By the time she was tracked down again in 1915, she had infected another 25 people, two of whom had died. Mallon was sent back to the island, where she was confined until her death in 1938 from a stroke. Though Mallon long denied that she was a typhoid carrier—she once angrily tried to stab a public health official with a fork after being accused of such—an autopsy subsequently revealed the presence of typhoid bacteria in her gall bladder.

Once you get finished applying a dose of hand sanitizer, here are the science and technology stories of the day.

Dinosaur with 15 horns discovered in Utah. Notice that we’re not making any double-entendre jokes about this, like some media outlets. 

The Obama administration is fighting climate change by helping developing world’s poor to get cleaner, less-polluting stoves. This may not sound like a big deal, but it is. The old dirty stoves have been pumping millions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere each year, and condemning a lot of people in other countries to die from lung diseases.

New drug could stop coughs from spreading disease. The medication reportedly reduces or eliminates microbe-carrying droplets that spew from the mouths of sick people.

Dimensions vanish in quantum gravity. It’s not just a small world after all. Fields and particles behave as if it’s a totally flat one too, when you look at reality on a very tiny scale (10 to the negative 35 meters, to be precise).  

Peugeot electric car sets acceleration records. For an EV, anyway. It can hit 62 mph in 14.4 seconds.

Researchers engineer adult stem cells that don’t age. The advance could enable biotech companies to grow the cells continuously in culture, and may speed the development of potential treatments for a wide range of diseases.