History Of Cholera

The term cholera has been derived from Greek word ‘khole’ that means ‘illness from bile’. This disease is most likely to have its origins in India as evident by its prevalence in the sub continent for long. Outbreaks of cholera is a result of poor living conditions like nearby pools of still water. Initially it was spread in 1817 via trade routes to Russia, Europe and from there to North America and rest of the world. Cholera spread across the world from Ganges delta in India. Its origins date back to the times of Hippocrates and Lord Buddha or may be even earlier. Several millions have contracted and lost their lives from this infectious disease.

Cholera is a major diarrheal disease that causes dehydration due to huge loss of body fluids that eventually leads to death. In the early nineteenth century it was believed that the disease was transmitted through bad air. Later on it was found out that Vibrio cholerae bacteria caused the sickness. This bacteria flourishes in warm water. It disseminates through consumption of contaminated water and food. The bacterium turns quickly into a fatal disease that had caused major outbreaks in early centuries.

The first cholera epidemic occurred in Bengal region, near Calcutta starting in the 19th century. It spread to Middle east, Southeast Asia, Eastern Africa and Europe. Thereafter it did affect North America and rest of Europe due to better transportation facilities and increase in global trade and human migration. The third time , it became rampant in North Africa, South America especially Brazil. The fourth time it spread in India, Spain and Naples. The fifth pandemic started in India and dispersed to Asia, Europe and South America. During these epidemics India, Persia, Egypt, Arabian Peninsula, Phillipines were affected the most. The final outbreak occurred in Indonesia.  

In Russia alone, between 1847 and 1851, around one million people had lost their lives. Thereafter it killed 150,000 Americans. In India, between 1900 and 1920, around eight million people died. Due to bad effects on health it became the first disease to be reported in United States. The Industrial Revolution helped to spread the illness around the world as well as transformed into rapid outbreaks on reaching Europe. There it transmitted along railways and major waterways . It thereby reached industrial European cities.

Several remedies have existed. When Naples was affected, homeopathic Camphor was used. In Northern America tomato syrup had been used as a home remedy. In UK, Elecampane was recommended. Developed nations hardly witness these cases now as governments have introduced better medical treatment and water sanitation practices.

However, in the 21st century it is no longer considered a major health issue in North America and Europe due to chlorination of water resources. However, developing countries are still affected by this disease. This severe illness had caused devastation globally. Millions still do not have access to clean drinking water thereby helping to spread the disease. The migration of cholera is a proof of impure drinking water that extends across space and time. Today these diseases can be prevented with proper intake of rehydration salts and proper access to clean food and drinking water.

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