IDPH 125th

SIXTY-THREE YEARS AGO
IN PUBLIC HEALTH HISTORY


In the summer of 1939, an outbreak of typhoid fever swept through Manteno State Mental Hospital. The outbreak lasted through October and resulted in 453 cases of illness and 60 deaths.

The typhoid fever outbreak at Manteno was traced to contamination of the hospital’s water supply, which was drawn from local wells. Water samples from the wells were analyzed in the Department’s laboratories, and results indicated the water was possibly being polluted by leakage from the sewer system. Emergency chlorinating machines were installed to address the problem.

Laboratory examination of fecal specimens taken from employees and others at the institution revealed one of the kitchen employees was a typhoid carrier. Whether or not the carrier was responsible for the outbreak could not be determined.

A number of Department employees sent to Manteno in mid-August stayed for the duration of the outbreak. They not only helped care for the sick, but conducted an exhaustive study of the epidemic.

Of the 453 cases, nearly three-quarters were among mental patients in the hospital; the rest were among construction workers and hospital employees. The outbreak was the worst typhoid fever epidemic reported in the United States since 1925.

After the epidemic, the director of the Department of Public Welfare, A. L. Bowen, was indicted for neglecting his duty. He was later acquitted.


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