May 30, 2024


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In 1854 an English doctor discovered the mode of transmission of cholera

In 1854 an English doctor discovered the mode of transmission of cholera

This article comes from the category Medicine story»Signed by Professor of Medicine Jean-Noël Fabiani-Salmon, each month is diagnosed monthly.History. The next issue will be available on newsstands from May 23.


Who is Jon Snow? Today when we ask the question, we have to hear the stereotypical hero of a hit TV series being quoted. However, he was one of England’s most respected physicians, with no shortage of great doctors from William Harvey (1578–1657) via Edward Jenner (1749–1823) to Alexander Fleming (1881–1955). This little-known Jon Snow performed the first painless childbirth, discovered the cause of cholera, and invented the new science of epidemiology. Gift list that history has forgotten! Jon Snow began his career as an expert in an emerging field: anesthesia. He was called upon by Queen Victoria in 1853 when she wanted to deliver her 8th child painlessly. It was a complete success. John’s life is made. Everything destined him to become a Queen’s Counsel and a member of England’s highest society. However, the Soho district itself is full of poor immigrants, small businesses and brothels!

Death is inevitable in the future

Because he firmly believes that his mission is to bring health and temperance to the working classes, from which he himself comes. By the time he got to 54 Frith Street, his fate was already sealed: cholera had reappeared in the Bay of Bengal and the epidemic was spreading through a train of soldiers and passengers aboard the Empire’s ships. At the end of the summer of 1854, it struck his neighborhood, and Snow witnessed firsthand the horrors of cholera in his patients: this horrible, uncontrollable diarrhea, made of “rice water” that drains the body in a few days, this exhausting vomiting and pain, this extreme dehydration in which no drink is accepted, in a short time making death inevitable.

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The prevailing opinion is that inhaled miasmas are responsible. To understand, you have to imagine the working-class neighborhoods of London at the time: no running water, no toilet facilities and human waste dumped in cesspools (pits dug under houses). The ambient smell is disgusting. Hence, the medical theory that the disease is transmitted by miasmas, the impurities of the ambient air, is readily accepted by public opinion. But as an anesthetist, ice causes, and knows how gases circulate in the body.

Innovation without fanfare

He had already performed autopsies on cholera deaths: he noted that it was a digestive disease and that the patients’ lungs were spared. We have more to prove. Deep snow and water are well established as vectors for cholera. So he takes samples from pumps in Soho. But his observations under the microscope yielded nothing: the water was clear… However, with 127 deaths in the last three days, we must act quickly. Snow begins a real police investigation, going door-to-door on neighborhood streets to establish a registry of the sick and dead at every home. He had the brilliant idea of ​​plotting this data on a graph. The reality of the spread of evil is clear to him: it all starts at one street corner, the corner of Broad Street and Cambridge Street. Epidemics decrease as we move away from it. Now, what do we see on this street corner? A water pump is on the broad street where all the residents come to fill their buckets.

After much discussion – and a few shouting matches about how he knows how to use threats – Snow manages to convince the authorities to remove the pump arm. Since then, the cholera epidemic has stopped. Although the disease killed more than 500 people in a single week, it was a huge victory for the coach. He found a way to stop the carnage. Life is slowly returning to normal on the streets of Soho. Snow compiles all of his work into a book to share his discovery. But he didn’t get the answer he expected and died three years later without understanding. However, with his map, he invented a new science: epidemiology.

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