Epidemic Cholera = Asiatic Cholera = Vibrio cholerae
Cholera is an acute, infectious disease characterized by extreme diarrhea, vomiting, and cramps.
Cholera is primarily spread by feces-contaminated water and food; or as some say, it is a deadly water
borne disease usually resulting from poor hygiene and untreated water. The cholera bacteria produce
a toxin which keeps the human body from absorbing liquids. It is one of the most rapidly fatal
illnesses known. Untreated individuals may die from severe dehydration within two to three hours.
This disease has been the killer of millions worldwide. It is endemic in both Bangladesh and Peru.
In 1991, a cholera epidemic swept down the west coast of South America. Africa suffered a
similar cholera surge in 1991.
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It seems that the bacteria prefers brackish coastal waters (moderately salty waters, i.e., coastal
estuaries). Traditionally, this link to the seacoast areas has been credited with the transmission of
the disease to other areas via ships.
The bacteria is controlled by chlorination of water and by waste water management. Of course,
the less developed nations with their less developed water and waste systems are more at risk of
outbreaks than the more developed nations. Natural disasters can greatly heighten the cholera risk by damaging
the water and waste water systems.
Today . . . Cholera can be simply and successfully treated by immediate
replacement of the fluid and salts lost through diarrhea. Patients can be treated with
oral rehydration solution, a prepackaged mixture of sugar and salts to be mixed with water
and drunk in large amounts. This solution is used throughout the world to treat diarrhea.
Severe cases also require intravenous fluid replacement. With prompt rehydration, fewer
than 1% of cholera patients die. U.S. Centers for Disease
Cholera is still with us, lurking . . .
Asiatic Cholera appears to have started on the Indian subcontinent, ca. 1826. In India
it became endemic. By 1831, it had spread to Russia. Eastern and Central Europe have suffered
outbreaks and epidemics through World War I. The disease came the United States via English immigrants,
Unfortunately, when the first epidemic hit our shores, there was no preventive, no good treatment,
and no cure for the disease. The cause of the disease was not known, but we do see that early on, poor
sanitation was suspected. During the years that King Cholera reigned in the United States (1832-1873), our
cities were filthy, especially the ghetto areas. Waste management in those years was poor at best, but usually
nonexistent. Waste would run down the middle of the streets, exposed. The streets were ripe with
odors. Once cholera was introduced into the waste system, it was easy for the drinking
water systems (poor as they were) to become cross contaminated; and once the water system was comprised,
neither poor nor rich were spared.
King Cholera was and is an equal opportunity killer. In London England, 1854, Dr. John Snow was
able to stop a major cholera epidemic by closing the Broad Street pump, and thus he showed that
cholera is a water borne disease. This was not previously known. According to Snow, prior to his finding it was
believed that cholera was communicated by effluvia given off from the patient into the surrounding air,
and inhaled by others into the lungs ... Yes, London was filthy too!
One of the most common treatments for cholera in the United States up through the Civil War
was the medicine calomel (Mercurous Chloride; Calogreen; Mercury Monochloride; Mercury
Chloride). It was commonly used
as a purgative (laxative) for the treatments of bowel illnesses ranging from diarrhea to cholera;
unfortunately calomels effects were
seriously harmful. It may have cleansed the bowels, but at the same
time it caused teeth to loosen, hair to fall out and could destroy the
patients gums and intestines. In other words, it could cause acute
mercury poisoning. By 1870, we see remedies for diarrhea, brought on by long-continued use of calomel.
We would need to ask -- if a person who had contracted cholera and taken calomel as treatment, could have
survived to suffer calomels side effects? There are a number of diseases which cause extreme diarrhea
other than cholera.
Whenever there were major epidemics in the United States, it was common in the urban areas to send
wagons to collect the dead. As the wagons passed the homes, the drivers would cry out, Bring out
your dead. The deaths and burials often went without being recorded. Some families were so devastated
that no one remained to put up headstones in the cemeteries -- assuming that a private burial was even possible.
The Cholera Epidemic Years in the United States
Major epidemics struck the United States in the years 1832, 1849, and 1866. There were smaller
epidemics between the major ones.
New York City: over 3,000 people killed.
New Orleans: 4,340 people killed.
New York City.
New York City: more than 5,000 killed.
Major nationwide epidemic.
See: 1849 Cholera Letter, Memphis Tennessee
Coles Co., Illinois, The Great Plains, and Missouri
Major nationwide epidemics.
Baltimore, Memphis, Washington DC - Cholera.
Baltimore, Memphis, New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington DC: recurring epidemics of
cholera, scarlet fever, smallpox, typhus, typhoid, and yellow fever.
Page © 2002 Fred Smoot