By Guiselle Rubio
Typhoid Mary might have been just another cook working for the rich in 20th century New York if she’d bothered to wash her hands much.
But she didn’t, even when health officials explained she was an asymptomatic carrier of Salmonella enterica bacteria, which caused the Typhoid Fever. First they imprisoned her for a number of years, and then released her in 1910 after she promised to stay out of the kitchen.
But again, she didn’t. She started working as a cook again at a maternity hospital under an assumed name in 1915, when there was an outbreak of 25 cases of Typhoid Fever causing two deaths.
Her case is just one mentioned in a new book by Dr. Miryam Wahrman of the biology department that addresses the importance of hand washing, “The Hand Book: Surviving in a Germ-Filled World.” Wahrman was one of several speakers at a discussion on Thursday (World Hygiene Day) in Cheng Library.
Wahrman said she was motivated to write her book.
“One is that I grew up in a household where hygiene was emphasized and my parents were ahead of their time in a lot of ways in which they encouraged us to wash our hands properly and it helps to decrease the risk of infectious diseases of course,” she said. “Secondly, there are a lot of intelligent and educated people who fail to wash appropriately and that are exposing themselves and others to risks of infectious diseases. So that was the tremendous motivation for me.”
She wrote the book over a four-month period last year.
“I’ve been doing the research and reading the literature, and thinking about the issue itself for a couple of years,” said Wahrman.
Also at the panel discussion was Professor Corey Basch who spoke about different studies that she had conducted, one in which it was brought to their attention that food vendors do not change their gloves. Instead, the venders touch food and money with the same gloves. During her study she observed 100 carts that involved 1,804 money exchanges, but yet no gloves were changed.
“I always knew how important it is to wash my hands, but I guess I never really thought about all the bacteria that can stick on to me when I don’t wash them,” said junior, Erica Mejia, 19.
“It’s such an important issue, ” said Wahrman. “Hand washing saves lives.”