It’s been a while, hunh? Well here’s a short post on what I’m reading.
I’m reading The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson, and it concerns the cholera outbreak in the Soho area of London in 1854.
If you’re an epidemiologist, you’ve heard of John Snow and you know about the Broad Street pump. This outbreak and the investigation into its cause is widely regarded as the birth of modern epidemiology.
The story goes something like this. In London in 1854, people got their water not from the tap, but from wells which were accessed by pumps placed in various locations throughout the city. This seemed to work OK. What worked less well is the fact that Londoners of the time basically lived in a big huge pile of shit. Sewers were a new invention and were far from perfected. Emptying into them were various cesspools throughout the city, and the sewers emptied into the Thames making it the most poluted river in history (?).
The pump on Broad Street in Soho (now Broadwick St.) was well known for its sparkling, clear and refreshing water, unlike many other pumps in the city which sound like they were pretty disgusting. But in the late summer of 1854 cholera spread throughout the area around the pump killing 700 people in 10 days. That’s really fast. In those days, the prevailing theory of why cholera spread was that it was spread by really bad smells, which London had lots of (remember all those cesspools, open sewers, and the big polluted river).