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This month in medical history: Handing epidemics

by Sean Ruck, Contributing Editor | March 10, 2018
From the March 2018 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

It was later found that the pump isolated by Snow in his research was fed by a well that had been dug a mere three feet from an old sewage pit. The contents of the pit were slowly leaching into the water supply at the pump. Further research found that a cloth diaper from a baby that had contracted cholera from a different source, had been lost in the cesspit, where the disease propagated.

Perhaps due to the distinct lack of understanding or concern he saw from the leadership charged with protecting public health, Snow always boiled his drinking water. While he never suffered from a waterborne disease, he still had a relatively short life. On June 10, 1858 at the age of 45, he experienced a stroke and died six days later.

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His groundbreaking work in epidemiology wasn’t appreciated or fully recognized until long after his passing. But his research did ultimately help to improve public health by effecting changes to how drinking water is delivered and waste is disposed of.

More than 150 years after his death, the members of the John Snow Society gather every September for a meeting called “The John Snow Society Pumphandle Lecture,” where they remove and replace a pump handle to symbolize the struggle and challenges faced by trailblazers dedicated to protecting public health.

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