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Prof. Gerry Killeen, AXA Research Chair in Applied Pathogen Ecology, UCC.Picture Denis Minihane.
Prof. Gerry Killeen, AXA Research Chair in Applied Pathogen Ecology, UCC.Picture Denis Minihane.

University College Cork professor: People who refuse Covid tests are a modern-day Typhoid Mary 

PEOPLE failing to show up for Covid-19 testing have been blasted as "irresponsible and dangerous”.

Senior Government civil servant Liz Canavan said there is a rise in the number of people identified as close contacts of a confirmed case who are being offered tests but not coming forward.

UCC Professor Gerry Killeen, a leading expert on viruses, said in some countries refusing to be tested when suspected of having a highly infectious disease could be considered criminal negligence.

“This is a situation where someone gets a phone call once in their life to say ‘we think you're carrying a life-threatening, highly transmittable pathogen with the same fatality rate as the Spanish Flu, could you please come out here and we are not going to take a pint of blood we are just going to stick a cue tip up your nose’. I don’t think it is asking too much.” 

Professor Killeen said somebody who just refuses to go for a test, when they have had close contact with a Covid positive case, is a modern-day Typhoid Mary — an Irish-born cook believed to have infected 53 people in the US with typhoid fever in the early part of the last century.

“Unfortunately, public health is full of examples like this, Typhoid Mary is the one that everyone has heard about, she’s the antihero of public health.

Prof. Gerry Killeen, AXA Research Chair in Applied Pathogen Ecology, UCC.Picture Denis Minihane.
Prof. Gerry Killeen, AXA Research Chair in Applied Pathogen Ecology, UCC.
Picture Denis Minihane.

“Like most Covid carriers she was an asymptomatic carrier. She looked fine, lived to a ripe old age, but the big problem was she was stubborn and unreasonable and so her behaviour was problematic.

“She was a cook, not a good occupation for someone who was a chronic typhoid carrier, and after her infection status came to the attention of the authorities she dodged every quarantine that was thrown at her. She changed her name at one stage. 

"She kept changing jobs, so she would join a family, become the family cook, everyone would get sick." 

The UCC professor said: “I guarantee if you read the stories and recognise the personality, she is the type of person that we all know, somewhere in our group of acquaintances, in our family, we know someone like this.” 

The UCC pathology expert, who was tested himself for Covid, said the system for testing is so professional, it makes no sense to dodge an appointment if called.

“A couple of us in our house had symptoms, our son qualified, we were new in Ireland and didn’t have a car, so the HSE sent out a van, driven by two lads from the army. We got the test. We were well looked after, it was very professional, minimum disruption, when you have services like that, why wouldn’t you use them?” 

Professor Killeens encouraged anyone who is called for a test to make the effort to attend the appointment.