Today's topic deals with Cholera, a disease created by the Vibro cholerae bacterium. Called the Asiatic cholera in the 19th century this little bug rapidly killed people by the thousands. History notes its devastating effects on the soldiers and sailors fighting the Crimean War as well as the decimation of emigrants bound for California during the gold rush. Patients contracting the disease died of dehydration anywhere from a few hours to a few days. The disease was first documented in the fifth century B.C. The first pandemic started in Indian in 1817. Cholera stymied doctors for its cause. Below is a clipping from a London paper The Morning Post dated July 21, 1874. At that date doctors postulated that there was caused by a "poison" related to changes in the soil. Earlier speculations focused upon a miasma and attributed an airborne cause. It is notable that in 1874 doctors in the heart of the British capital did not recognize that Fillippo Pacini identified the bacterium that caused cholera in 1854. The discovery of this water borne bacteria went unnoticed until 1883 when Robert Koch identified the same bacterium again in the intestines the infected. In 1854 John Snow smothered a cholera epidemic in Soho by removing the handle from a contaminated public water well. He acted without knowledge of the nature of his foe. He had postulated as early as 1849 that the ingestion of fecal material in contaminated water was a likely cause for cholera. His success was later assigned to the dustbins of history as his theories were rejected. The search for a cure eluded doctors who followed false trails through pandemic after pandemic. The doctors dealing with the 1874 outbreak did not know the nature of the monster, but they did recognize that there was a sanitary element in the equation.
Treatment for cholera in the 19th century was crude. Laudinum was used to quiet the patient and attempts were made to rehydrate the victims before the loss of water and electrolytes caused sudden death. Today we have vaccines, testing capabilities, and better methods to rehydrate patients. Cholera still rears its head in places where water purification is not available or has failed.
The lessons for today are important. By 1874 there had been several cholera pandemics. The use of quarantines to prevent the introduction of the disease into a nation were recognized as fruitless. In such instances individuals with symptoms were isolated but their fecal material was not. It was placed in community and family cesspits (which often leaked into wells and streams). Diapers from infected babies were laundered with he rest of the clothes, often in streams used by the community for water sources. Water boiling and purification were the best weapons. Perhaps tea drinking and a menu featuring boiled foods was an unwitting adaptation to this hidden killer.