The Ghost Map

Topics: Epidemiology, Water supply, Cholera Pages: 5 (1801 words) Published: September 22, 2012
In the summer of 1854, London was coming out as one of the most modern cities in the world. With nearly 2.4 million people living in the area at the time, the city’s infrastructure itself was having a hard time providing for the basic needs of its residents. The biggest problem existing within the city at that time was its waste removal system, or for better terms, its lack of one. Human waste was piling up everywhere, from people houses to the rivers and drinking water. This situation was the perfect breeding conditions for a number of diseases, and towards the end of that summer, one of the most deadly of them all took over. It took the work of both a physician and a local minister in order to discover the mysterious cause of the extremely deadly Cholera outbreak, but by then hundreds of people had already lost their lives. It all started when a baby girl in Golden Square, the poorest and most densely populated area in London, came down with the sickness. The bacteria got was put into the family’s cesspool and it then spread into the nearby water supply. This water pump on Broad Street also happened to be the cleanest source of water around for the London residents in that area. A lot of people would even travel farther than they needed to just to get their hands on this water. Little did they know, though, that in the next few days a great number of them would be dead.            This disease happened quickly. A person could go from perfectly healthy to completely dead in a matter of 12 hours and that fear was felt by every person who lived there. Symptoms included watery diarrhea, vomiting, and muscle cramps as the bacteria worked hard to rid the body of every bit of water it contained. Eventually the victim would die a conscious and painful death of dehydration. One man braved through his fears and decided to be there for his fellow man. This young clergyman was named Henry Whitehead. He would go from door to door, nursing the sick and being with families, but all the while observing and keeping his mind open to the possibilities of what could be causing such a horrific event.            A lot of theories were going around about what caused and spread cholera. Many medical professionals did not have much more of a clue than everyday citizens making their own hypothesis about what made this disease so deadly. They had a name on it and that was it. It became an accepted theory, though, that the bacteria was spread through miasma, or through the air. It was believed that the horrible smell in the air is what contaminated people. Those living in more squalid conditions, then, were pegged as more likely to contract the disease. Another man, though, changed this entire idea of a miasmatic spread of such a killer disease. John Snow was a practicing physician who had been interested in cholera since he was a young apprentice. His observations from previous experiences with the disease led him to believe that this infectious agent was not spread through the air, but that it was spread through the water and then consequently ingested. Cholera was something that you swallowed, not something that you breathed in. This opinion was greatly rejected by other doctors and experts and Whitehead even did not agree with this far-fetched idea when the thought of an airborne disease made much more sense at the time. The more that Whitehead observed the people he was taking care of, though, the more he realized they all had something in common. Of those who were sick, almost all had drunk from the Broad Street pump. It was not long before his own personal research combined with his own personal knowledge of the neighborhood led him to also embrace the waterborne theory. The two of them took surveys of the area and created the “ghost map”, a pattern of where people got their water and who contracted the disease in certain areas of London. By now, the idea of a waterborne disease definitely made sense to Whitehouse and despite opposition from...
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