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The Medical Detective: John Snow and the Mystery of Cholera

BMJ 2006; 332 doi: (Published 18 May 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;332:1220
  1. Alfredo Morabia (, professor of epidemiology
  1. City University of New York, United States

    John Snow is perhaps the only doctor ever to be considered the founder of two medical disciplines: epidemiology and anaesthesiology. An early believer in the theory of contagion, he grasped the opportunity of a peculiarity in the water supply in London to gather quantitative evidence supporting his theory that cholera was transmitted by polluted water.

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    Sandra Hempel

    Granta Books, £18.99, pp 304 ISBN 1 86207 842 4

    Rating: GraphicGraphic

    In 1853-4, when a cholera pandemic hit London, one of the two major water supply firms, the Lambeth Company, had moved its Thames intakes upriver, above the tidal (and therefore sewage) reach. Snow showed that most of the cholera deaths occurred …

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