Sitting elbow to elbow with strangers in the movie theatre is nothing new to the average American. However, when you are cramped in a packed theatre and you hear a cough every now and then while watching the movie Contagion, well that’s another story. Even if you are viewing this movie in the comfort of your home, your mind will start to wonder about the thousands of hands that could have touched this disk you received in your mailbox this afternoon from Netflix. Then it begins…”What have I been exposed to?” My irrational fear as well as fascination about epidemics first grew after the movie Outbreak and now once again with Contagion. Lucky for me, I will have the opportunity to meet author Julie Chibbaro at this year’s Festival. Julie Chibbaro is a Festival Featured Author and in her blog post below she offers a little glimpse into her new novel Deadly. In Deadly, Chibbaro digs deep into the typhoid fever epidemic in the early 1900’s and the life of the notorious Typhoid Mary.
Germs are everywhere. According to Dr. Charles Gerba (aka, “Dr. Germ”), 71% of gas pump handles and 68% of mailbox handles are contaminated with highly contagious germs. At least we have some notion how to fight them. Imagine living a hundred years ago, when most people didn’t even know what germs were. Most thought that diseases were spread by miasmas, or bad air from trash.
In my young adult novel, Deadly, which takes place in 1906, an epidemic of typhoid fever (caused by the salmonella typhi bacteria) spread in New York City from house to house. No one knew what caused it. Not until one man, Dr. George Soper, a sanitary engineer, had an idea. He thought that maybe a healthy person was carrying it inside her body and spreading it through her cooking. No one had ever heard of such a thing! Healthy people didn’t carry disease.
In Deadly, along with his (fictional) assistant, 16-year-old Prudence Galewski, George Soper hunts down this carrier of typhoid fever, a cook named Mary Mallon. This cook really existed, as did the doctor who found her. Today, she is known to the public as Typhoid Mary.