What Modern-Day Psychologists Learn from Victorian Approaches to Cholera?

Subject: Health Care
Type: Exploratory Essay
Pages: 5
Word count: 1387
Topics: Medicine, Public Health

Cholera, according to both scientific and biological researches, is caused by the presence of bacteria known as vibrio cholera that mainly attack or infects small intestine within human body. The ultimate consequence is unbearable deadly symptoms such as severe diarrhea which en eventually dehydrates human body to death. Regardless of the barbaric nature of this disease, human seemed to had little knowledge and concern on the impacts of the disease hence its widespread across the entire globe claimed millions of innocent lives. Unfortunately, neither a single country nor a continent was immune from the deadly attack. Terribly, Victorians ‘experience with cholera in 1982 left a social and economic mayhem in London (Chadwick, 1984). 

According to the earlier established government team of inquiries into the underlying factors behind the rapid spread of cholera in the region, the preexisted poor housing and filthy slums in London are too blamed for the cholera epidemic. Further, the instituted investigations revealed that the sorry state of the sanitary facilities within the country led to contamination of drinking water thereby increasing the vulnerability to cholera (Halliday, 1999).  This prompted a swift political measure through parliamentary action to sanction an Engineering project of a new sewer system for the London. This is a clear indication that Victorians finally   came to realize a greater need for quarantine intentionally to check on the constantly spreading disease. The underlying situation demanded that upon every passenger feared to be a victim of cholera, a yellow quarantine flag would be flagged .Socially, those who were suspected to be carries of the disease were immediately isolated from others into a specially established  cholera hospital where majority of the patients ended up dying (Johnson ,2008). 

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In the midst of fear and confusion brought about by the traumatic cholera, John Snow, a doctor born in York attracted national knowledge by his discovery on how the disease of Cholera is mainly transmitted. Most importantly, Snow’s major contribution was clearly demonstrated when the fateful event of cholera outbreak was experienced within the central district of London. In his investigative work, he finally attributed the outbreak to a highly contaminated drinking water (Morris, 1976). This finally led to his theory that wholly described cholera as waterborne disease. Unfortunately, the establishments of Dr. John Snow in regard to cholera attracted little or no attention from the medical experts as majority of them ever took his opinions on how cholera is transmitted seriously. In fact some decided to attack him as his weakest point by criticizing him on the ground that he could not only  identify the exact nature of the poison believed to be in water but could  also not establish the underlying cause of Cholera. The importance of his work was not recognized at an instance due to the existed belief on miasma that tends to treat all smell to disease. Notably, his submission that contaminated water was the primary source of cholera was in consistent with Edwin Chawick’s submission through the theory of miasma. This explains why the disorganized and poor drainage systems in London led to a massive flow of highly contaminated sewage waters hence stepping up the risk of Cholera attack (Beeton, & Isabella, 1994). 

Scientifically, Snow established epidemiological discovery that unfortunately failed to gain an instant impact or effect. In his epidemiology, which is in early 1848, he established his basic theory which instituted an analogical concept of the pathological as well as the therapeutics of the disease in question. Different from other known epidemic diseases which in most cases manifest themselves through general symptoms like fever, cholera remains to be unique. (Mary & Lankester, & Edwin, 2012). According to his theory, cholera manifests itself through abdominal symptoms. In his theoretical submissions, he asserts that the disease is mainly caused by morbid material or alternative poison which naturally acts on the surface of human stomach as well as intestines with consequent deadly effects such as diarrhea and vomiting hence dehydration effect in the body leading to death (Eyler,& John ,2012).As a point of emphasis, Snow affirmed that indeed the presence of the suggested poison within the intestinal discharges in any cholera victim is undoubted sign of cholera victimization.

However, regardless of misunderstandings and criticism that surrounded the work of Snow, his conclusion on the how cholera is propagated is in consistent with the submissions of William Budd, who had earlier established the idea that typhoid is also waterborne disease. He also arrived at a similar concept on pathological evidences. On a similar ground, Budd made an announcement just few days after Snow’s that he, together with his team of Bristol medics, had established the underlying agent of cholera. This was identified to be fungus observed from the victim’s stools. Slightly, according to assertions made by Hempel (2007), Snow was never seen to endorse this theory, perhaps this explains why he decided to concentrate on epidemiological evidences. Snow being a general practitioner was only conversant with anesthesia with no prior knowledge and experience in the field of epidemiology. Based on virulent nature of cholera as revealed by Snow, the modern psychologist undoubted believes began to accept the reality that strongly relates cholera with state of sanitation as well as health in a particular region. Moreover, they have learnt that the symptoms of cholera is relatively unique compared to other diseases with similar nature. The idea of contaminated water as the ultimate cause of cholera is also a modern concept. This probably explains the currently installed modern water and sewage systems among Victorian surroundings (Budd, 1849).

In order to drive his point home, he made use of methodological process of elimination, to achieve this, he visited various demarcated homes with cholera victims and administered interview on the people regarding their sources of drinking water. From the data collected, brewery workers indicated that they mainly obtain their water from their private deep well with almost no case of cholera out of the 70 workers. Also, out of 535 inmates in one of the workhouse only 5 were reported to have died as a result of cholera simply because they also had constructed a private well. Consequently, the demonstrated detailed study concerning the cholera outbreak greatly convinced the St. James Parish vestrymen of London to eventually get rid of pipe A which later brought a complete check to cholera epidemic in the region. One of the most influential members of the constituted committee recognized the significance of the above demonstration. Unfortunately, it’s only William Farr who decided to take the work of Snow with the required seriousness and attention.

Conclusively, the collected data from the investigative study conducted by Snow in cholera-based homes revealed two main groups of people. One of the groups is the one that received its drinking water merely from a source that contains sewage from London while the other had a source free from such like impurities. Based on their corresponding statistics about the already reported deaths, upon his submissions, he was further involved in the publications of his findings which later had a legislative impact. Laws were enacted mandating all companies supplying water in London to implement proper mechanisms that helps to filter their water before it finally reaches the consumer. Consequently, the previously unprecedentedly high death rate due to cholera was greatly reduced (Pelling, 1978).

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Significantly, the figurative value of Snow in the historical structure of epidemiology will indeed be remembered. His  contribution in encouraging modern psychologist as well the entire Victorians to be real warriors  and confront the world with the problems in it ,and to further  encourage our own convictions to help in decisions that guarantees a secure and viable ways that leads to a better generations. Standing firm in a fight to find a solution to a problem remains an outstanding moral lesson that every individual including the modern psychologists will count on from the work of snow. Again, his work is viewed with great concern since the discovered concept about cholera proved wrong the works of others who basically believed on miasma (Eyler, 1979).By demonstrating that cholera epidemic is only tackled with a practical approach, the whole world including the medical professionals who initially disputed his work finally believed in practical intervention as the most viable approach to eradicate the spread of cholera.

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  1. Chadwick E, (1984), Report on The Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Population. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press
  2. Halliday S, (1999). The Great Stink of London: Sir Joseph Bazalgette and the Cleansing of the Victorian Metropolis. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing
  3. Johnson S, (2008). The Ghost Map: A Street, an Epidemic and the Hidden Power of Urban Networks, London: Penguin
  4.  Morris R. J., (1976).Cholera 1832: The Social Response to an Epidemic (New York: Holmes & Meier Publishers Inc.
  5. Beeton, M. Isabella. (1994). Beeton’s Book of Household Management. London: Chancellor Press 
  6.  Mary P. Lankester, Edwin. (2012).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Web. 6 July 2012.
  7. Eyler, J. M. (2012).The Relative Merits of William Farr’s and John Snow’s Investigative Procedures. History of Epidemiology.
  8. Hempel, S. (2007). The Strange Case of the Broad Street Pump: John Snow and the Mystery of Cholera. Berkley and Los Angeles: University of California Press
  9. Budd W. (1849). Malignant Cholera: its cause, mode of propagation, and prevention. London: J. Churchill
  10. Pelling M. (1978). Cholera: fever and English medicine .Oxford: Oxford University Press
  11. Eyler J. M. (1979). Victorian Social Medicine: the ideas and methods of William Farr. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press
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