The psychology of the virus ‘super-spreader’


Like many infections COVID-19 can produce mild symptoms or none at all in some people, meaning they are not aware they are infected and can spread the virus without realising. COVID-19 may therefore be prone to the phenomenon of the ‘super-spreader’. In this podcast, Dr Raj Persaud talks to Dr Susan Campbell Bartoletti about Mary Mallon, the subject of her recent book ‘Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America’. Mallon was a healthy carrier of typhoid fever at the turn of the 20th century who resisted public health officials’ attempts to contain her. Can the first documented ‘super-spreader’ in history reveal true causes of modern pandemics?


Date published: 9 April 2020

Presenter: Dr Raj Persaud

Interviewees: Dr Susan Campbell Bartoletti

Audio running time: 51 minutes

Credits: 0.5


Learning outcomes


By the end of this podcast, we hope you will have gained an understanding of:


  • the life, experiences and behaviour of 'super-spreader' Mary Mallon, a healthy carrier of typhoid fever


  • differences in reactions to Government implementation of public health rules during pandemics at the beginning of the 20th century and during the current COVID-19 pandemic


  • parallels in public confidence in scientists versus medics and the perceptions of different social classes over time


  • similarities in the importance of good hygiene practice, proper sanitation and acceptance of science during pandemics.


Take the module test and gain CPD certification

Having problems downloading or playing the podcast file? View our troubleshooting page.


If you like this podcast, you may also be interested in the following:


Module Health anxiety: Part 1 – concept, prevalence and management by Professor Peter Tyrer and Dr Helen Tyrer


Podcast The psychology and psychiatry of pandemics with Professor Steven Taylor

© 2021 Royal College of Psychiatrists