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
hospitals water supply, which was drawn from local wells. Water samples
from the wells were analyzed in the Departments 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
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
After the epidemic, the director of the Department of Public Welfare, A. L.
Bowen, was indicted for neglecting his duty. He was later acquitted.
A Timeline of the
Illinois Department of Public Health
of Public Health
535 West Jefferson Street
Springfield, Illinois 62761
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