May 1855 - The riddle of cholera

The connection between disease and defective structural and economic arrangements, often as we have considered it, continues to demand the most serious attention.

The relationship of cholera and fever to cesspools, imperfect drainage, impure water, overcharged graveyards and want of ventilation is a great sanitary question, with which we feel ourselves all the more urgently called upon to deal, to the best of our ability and experience.

But it is also one that the medical faculty, or their recognised exponents, such as The Lancet, admit their almost total ignorance, notwithstanding the host of facts, whence an inductive and correct scientific or theoretical knowledge of the subject ought to be derivable.

Thus the editor of The Lancet himself, in a recent article, frankly says: “We think it right to inform the public that however satisfied some people may be upon the matter, the true pathology of cholera has not yet been discovered,” so that “all our methods of treatment, howsoever loudly some of them may be vaunted as rational, are in truth empirical [or quackish], experimental and tentative.”

It is the duty of everyone in the present perplexity and utter paralysis of medical skill to contribute any little light to illuminate so dark a question.

One thing appears beyond all doubt, and it is on this we work resolutely, however feebly, that where human beings are crowded together in ill-arranged dwellings, where the drainage is bad and the cesspool lurks, where refuse rots and the air is vitiated or the water impure and scanty, there cholera when evoked, reigns and slays.