John Snow - the Father of Modern Epidemiology

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John Snow – The Father of Modern Epidemiology

Amy Blackburn
John Snow – The Father of Modern Epidemiology

Epidemiology is the study of patterns of disease in human populations: who has the disease, how much disease they have, and why do they have it (Hydroville Curriculum Project, 2004). Epidemiologists study disease in groups of people, or populations. They study the general information about the populations. This form of research is largely field work. You, as an epidemiologist, only get to study the population once while it is under the specific conditions. You have to take very detailed notes and you have to take notes about everything, even things that may not have an effect on the outcome. People have to be willing to talk to the epidemiologists if they are to get an accurate picture to find the cause of the disease. The population must be studied to make sure that every factor that affects the disease is included (Hydroville Curriculum Project, 2004). John Snow was a brilliant doctor who in addition to being the father of epidemiology, was also a pioneer in using anesthesia for women during childbirth. In 1853, Snow gave Queen Victoria chloroform when she gave birth to her eighth child, Prince Leopold. During his life, John Snow was witness to several cholera outbreaks. He wanted to learn more about how the disease spread. The early years

John Snow was born in 1813 in York, England. He was a very bright, methodical, and eager student. His mother used a small inheritance to send him to a private school where he did very well. John wanted to become a physician, so at fourteen he was apprenticed to Dr. William Hardcastle in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. He loved to gather little details that others overlooked in his notebooks. During the summer of 1831, a cholera epidemic struck London. By October the outbreak had spread to Newcastle, where Snow was in his fourth year as an apprentice. Dr. Hardcastle had so many patients that he couldn’t care for everyone personally. He sent Snow to treat the miners at Killingworth Colliery (Vachon, 2005). Here he treated the miners for the symptoms of cholera, fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration. There was little he could actually do, since the usual treatments for treating disease were ineffective against cholera. Snow continued to treat patients until February 1832, when the epidemic ended. London

In 1836, John moved to London to start his formal medical education. In 1838, he became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons and graduated from the University of London in 1844. He was admitted to the Royal College of Physicians in 1850 (BBC - History - John Snow). John Snow was 35 when the new outbreak of cholera struck London. He had spent a lot of time thinking about what he had seen during his early exposure to cholera. He thought that the cholera was spread by “invisibly tiny parasites.” Most physicians in those days believed that cholera was caused by something called “miasmas.” Miasmas were thought to be “poisonous gases that were thought to arise from sewers, swamps, garbage pits, open graves, and other foul smelling sites of organic decay” (Vachon, 2005).

In September of 1848, Snow decided to track the progress of the disease. Snow found out that the first man who had died of cholera, John Harnold, had just arrived by ship on the 22nd. He had spent the night in a rented room in Horsleydown. Harnold quickly developed the cholera symptoms and died. The next man, Blenkinsopp, who had stayed there also developed cholera and died. Snow talked to the physician who treated the second man, and viewed it as strong evidence that the disease was caused by a contagion. John speculated that the sheets were not changed or cleaned before the second man rented the room, and the bacteria remained on the sheets (Vachon, 2005). He wondered if the germs were spread by the diarrhea that the patients suffered from, and that if a...
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