(Click on thumbnails to enlarge image)

In its most severe forms, cholera is one of the most rapidly fatal illnesses known. It is closely identified with sanitation problems, particulary contamination of drinking water from sewage carrying the bacterium Vibrio cholerae.

Cholera likely has its origins in and is endemic to the Indian subcontinent. The disease spread by trade routes (land and sea) to Russia, then to Western Europe, and from Europe to North America. Cholera is now no longer considered a pressing health threat in Europe and North America due to filtering and chlorination of water supplies, but still heavily affects populations in developing countries.

The first major cholera pandemic lasted from 1816 to 1826. Previously restricted, the pandemic began in Bengal, and then spread across India and on into Russia, China and Indonesia. Seven major subsequent pandemics killed millions more and spread the disease through much of the world.

Prevention of cholera involves antibacterial treatment of sewage, sterilization of wastes from cholera victims, water purification.

- Drawn from Wikipedia, 2010


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Cholera Online - An exhibit from the U.S. Library of Medicine, including urban outbreaks, social commentary, maps of pandemics and much more.
Map depicting the spread of cholera from the Indian Sub-Continent

Source: John Snow Archive and Research Companion

Deaths from asiatic cholera during the epidemic of 1865-6, showing the effects of sewerage and water systems on the disease.

Cady Staley and Geo. S. Pierson, The Separate System of Sewerage, Its Theory and Construction, Third Edition (New York: D. Van Nostrand, Co., 1899), p. 33.

Highlight - Large collection of cholera graphics from Life Magazine

Collection of photos and graphics about cholera epidemics from the Life Photo Archive.

Cholera in art and cartoons
Ward at the Middlesex Hospital, London, early 19th century.

Source: John Snow Archive and Research Companion
Death comes through the water for the people of 19th century London. From exhibit at the Kew Bridge Steam Museum.

Source: Culture 24
George Cruickshank's depiction of the portion of the River Thames from which the Southwark Water Works drew its supply, circa 1830

Source: John Snow Archive and Research Companion
London Board of Health scouring the city for sources of cholera during the 1832 epidemic (Wellcome Library, London).

Source: John Snow Archive and Research Companion
Relief of the epidemy of cholera in 1832 in Paris : Grave Pailloux-Haumontré, in the cemetery of Saint-Ambreuil, Saône-et-Loire, France.

Source: Creative Commons image.
Punch, July-December 1848. Accompanies poem found in the Miscellaneous section.

"Death as a Cutthroat", engraving by Alfred Rethel (1851). Rethel was inspired by an account that the celebrated poet Heinrich Heine had made of the sudden outbreak of cholera in the year 1832, at a masquerade during the carnival of Paris. Here, Death plays a kind of violin, while the musicians flee. Close to them stands an emaciated female silhouette, wrapped in a shroud: symbol of the disease. In the foreground, some people have already died of cholera. (Text from

Source: Gerstenberg, Kurt, "Alfred Rethel, Der Kunstler und Mensc," (Delphin-Berlag Munchen, 1920, digitized by Google Books), p. 7.
The caption to this 1883 Puck drawing reads, "The kind of 'assisted emigrant' we can not afford to admit." The drawing depicts members of the New York Board of Health wielding a bottle of carbolic acid, a disinfectant, in their attempts to keep cholera at bay.

Source: Nova - History of Quarantine
Charles Thrale, "Burning the Cholera Dead," POW camp in Thailand, 1940's.

Source: Plagues in Art
Drawing about the Cholera in Le Petit Journal

Source: Creative Commons image.
Representation of the cholera epidemic of the nineteenth century. Before 1830 cholera was unknown in the western hemisphere. It became one of the most feared epidemic diseases of the nineteenth century. Date unknown

Source: "A Short History of the National Institutes of Health," National Library of Medicine photographic archive.

Source: Creative Commons image.
Cholera photos
Vaccinating Germans. for Cholera, date unknown.

Source: Library of Congress, LC-B2- 3540-7
Cholera posters
Source: University of Leeds
Source: University of Leeds
John Snow and the struggle to eradicate cholera
John Snow (15 March 1813 - 16 June 1858) was a British physician and a leader in the adoption of anaesthesia and medical hygiene. He is considered to be one of the fathers of epidemiology, because of his work in tracing the source of a cholera outbreak in Soho, England, in 1854.

Snow was a sceptic of the then dominant miasma theory that stated that diseases such as cholera or the Black Death were caused by pollution or a noxious form of "bad air". The germ theory was not widely accepted by this time, so he was unaware of the mechanism by which the disease was transmitted, but evidence led him to believe that it was not due to breathing foul air. He first publicized his theory in an essay On the Mode of Communication of Cholera in 1849. In 1855 a second edition was published, with a much more elaborate investigation of the effect of the water-supply in the Soho, London epidemic of 1854.

By talking to local residents (with the help of Reverend Henry Whitehead), he identified the source of the outbreak as the public water pump on Broad Street (now Broadwick Street). Although Snow's chemical and microscope examination of a sample of the Broad Street pump water was not able to conclusively prove its danger, his studies of the pattern of the disease were convincing enough to persuade the local council to disable the well pump by removing its handle.

- drawn from Wikipedia, 2010
Dr. John Snow (1813-1858).

Creative Commons image

Original map made by John Snow in 1854. Cholera cases are highlighted in black.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Map in Snow's book of 1855.

Source: John Snow Archive and Research Companion
Snow, J., "On the Mode of Communication of Cholera," 1855. This is Map 2 in John Snow's book. It was used by Dr. Snow to describe the grand experiment of 1854 comparing cholera mortality among persons consuming contaminated water (Southwark and Vauxhall Company - blue, but faded to green on the map) versus cleaner water (Lambeth Company - red). The overlapping area (purple but faded to gray-red on the map) is where John Snow analyzed the results of a natural experiment.

Source: John Snow Archive and Research Companion
There is a plaque commemorating Snow and his 1854 study in the place of the water pump on Broad Street (now Broadwick Street) with a water pump with its handle removed, near what is now "The John Snow" public house.

Source: Photo by Justinc, Wikimedia Commons


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