Cholera, Chloroform, and the Science of Medicine: A Life of John Snow

By Peter Vinten-Johansen; Howard Brody et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 12
Snow and the Mapping
of Cholera Epidemics

ON THE EVENING OF 3 June 1851 Snow delivered the second part of a paper on the propagation of cholera at the monthly meeting of the London Epidemiological Society. The society had again rented the library of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society in Berners Street.

Snow began the paper by offering a general principle of "epidemic diseases, the whole of which I look upon as communicable from one patient to another, this communication being probably the real feature of distinction between epidemic and other diseases," and he reviewed several local outbreaks that conformed to this principle.1 He proposed to show that "cholera was often communicated through the water, on a more extensive scale, by means of sewers which empty themselves into various rivers, from which the population of many towns derive their supply of water" (610). A map extracted from the second Report on the Health of Towns, suspended in the room, indicated which water companies supplied particular districts in London. Snow then pointed to another map (Fig. 12.1), produced by Mr. Richard Grainger from the Board of Health, that depicted the "relative prevalence of the late "1849" epidemic in different parts of London" in varying shades of blue.2 A comparison of the two maps showed that "cholera was most prevalent …in those districts supplied with water vitiated by the contents of sewers and cesspools" (610).

This presentation is the first recorded instance of Snow using a disease map. In the past he had frequently used data tables when presenting papers at medical

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