Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Haiti cholera outbreak and why we should be remembering Dr. John Snow.

The recent tragedy of the cholera outbreak in Haiti had gotten me thinking about water sanitation in the west and how much we take it for granted. It also got me thinking about one of the great founders of epidemiology, Dr. John Snow, a physician living in 19th century London.

Snow was famous for having done extensive research on anesthesia, primarily chloroform and ether (lovely smelling chemical by the way, reminds me of a dentist's office). He was also physically present and administering chloroform as a method of obstetrical anesthesia to good old Queen Victoria as she was pumping out two of her nine kids.

His greatest achievement, however was in founding the science of epidemiology. He did this through the study of a cholera outbreak that occurred in 1854 in a small town called Soho. He essentially got a map of the town and began visiting and interviewing as many people he could talk to about their health., their lifestyle habits etc. Through extensive probing, he discovered that all the towns folk who contracted cholera did so after drinking or bathing in water from one specific well: the Broad street pump. He eventually convinced those using the well to stop, and the cholera cases soon disappeared. Because of his proper mapping of the town's citizens who were affected by the disease, Snow was able to construct one of the first epidemiological maps, which again showed the cases of disease spread around the Broad street pump. It was later discovered that the pump was dug several feet away from an open sewage pit, with fecal matter entering the water supply.

His work not only founded an entire branch of science, but also helped solidify a link between contaminated water and disease. If you ask me, that's one of the finest discoveries of science that we take for granted every day.

Most of the world's population who are still affected by diarrheal diseases nowadays are from developing countries like Haiti, and the majority of those victims are children, the ones who can tolerate it the least. I once caught viral gastroenteritis: non stop vomiting and ...well, you know, the "other" thing. The treatment ended up being bed rest and some diluted gatorade, and I even complained about that. To image that many of these people may die from something similar either makes one feel really depressed or really lucky. Maybe it's a bit of both.


  1. There's more to the Haiti cholera outbreak than meets the eye. It doesn't just reappear after decades not being present.

    Reports are not indicating what kind of cholera it is because it is very difficult for it to enter the area. There are no open rivers lakes in the region that would significantly cause this.

    There is a small island off of it where 15 cases of cholera been reported before this Haiti 'outbreak' now we ask how did the virus swim across the sea and infilitrate the water resources.

    It is very unlikely. There are concerns that it may have been re-introduced by aid workers and eacekeeping forces.

    Anyways the cure is easy.

    - Ali S. ;) p.s. how did u just add me to the fb group?

  2. That is a possibility, I suppose that`s why some of the Haitian population mobbed several of the treatment clinics. Although I think it`s an inappropriate response. It`s difficult to find the source but generally it comes from water contaminated with fecal matter. I suppose more studies need to be done to identify it, but it seems to be regressing which is a good thing.

    Oddly enough, I found out facebook doesn't require people to join groups anymore, if someone adds you you're automatically part of a group. It's a little sketchy though, so I hope they bring back the old system.