Sunday, 10 February 2013

Dr John Snow



There have been some very courageous Doctors, in fact we would be in a real mess if there hadn’t been.

We should honour the good ones.

One of the best was physician John Snow from York, a mine Doctor and protégé of Robert Stevenson. He then attended university in London and became a pioneer of the scientific use of anaesthetics at a time when being given ether or chloroform was as dangerous as the operation itself.

However, the reason why he is in my hall of fame is his role in the London Cholera epidemic of 1854, which was commonly believed to be the result of ‘miasma’ or ‘bad air’, rather than drinking water infected with sewage.

John Snow didn’t know about bacteria or viruses but he did realise that it wasn’t the air that was the problem; it had long been folk knowledge that those who drank beer were less likely to die than those who drank water.

Snow decided to plot a map of the epidemic – using a dot for each fatality. He tramped around the slums and tenements of the area of the outbreak and talked to the people to produce his map. This showed a cluster of dots in the area around the water pump at Broad Street, Covent Garden. Those dots that were nearer another pump were often people who preferred the water from Broad Street and went there to drink instead.

Snow had to battle local opinion and famously fought to persuade the local Board of Guardians to come with him to the pump where the handle was removed before a crowd of angry people. When people couldn’t use the water, the outbreak fizzled out.

It wasn’t popular; not with the locals who had to walk further to the next pump, nor with the water company which supplied infected water to the area. There were a lot of vested interests and later central government even restored the handle to the infected pump.

Ultimately it was only the building of London’s main sewer that stamped out cholera for good.

A determined, clever and courageous man, to be remembered. 


Neil Harris

(a don’t stop till you drop production)


No comments:

Post a Comment