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Snow, John

water cholera pump contamination

(1813–58) British physician: pioneer of anaesthesiology and epidemiology.

As a very young medical apprentice Snow was sent to Sunderland to work on victims of England’s first cholera epidemic, which entered through that seaport in 1831. The disease was not curable, and was often fatal, and the experience gave Snow an interest in cholera that led him to study its epidemiology in the London outbreak of 1854. He was then practising in Soho; at that time work on microorganisms had not appeared and the cholera vibrio was not to be described by until 1884. Snow believed, however, that the disease was due to a living, water-borne organism, he had sensible views on disinfection and he surveyed the incidence of cases and their relation to water supply, concluding that faecal contamination of Thames water was a major culprit. A plot of cases in his own parish pointed to the Broad Street pump as a focus; a sewer pipe passed close to its well. Snow persuaded the council to remove the pump handle, and dramatic improvement followed. From then on, contamination of water by faeces was seen to be a key factor in the spread of cholera. A tavern, the ‘John Snow’, now marks the place of the pump.

From 1840 Snow had been interested in the physiology of respiration and so, when anaesthetic inhalation methods came into the UK in 1846, in the form of knowledge of the use of diethyl ether ((C2 H5 )2O) by dental and general surgeons in the USA, Snow was well placed to experiment on the new technique. He devised an apparatus for its use which gave proper control, and divided the stages of anaesthesia into five degrees. In 1847 J Y Simpson (1811–70) introduced trichloromethane (chloroform, CHCl3 ) as an anaesthetic in obstetrics; again, Snow applied physiological principles and devices to its use, and became an expert operator with it and the first specialist anaesthetist. As such, he was called to give it to Queen Victoria in 1853 for the birth of her seventh child, Prince Leopold, and her use of it gave the procedure respectability and did much to overcome religious and medical prejudice.

Snyder, Ron - Chief Executive Officer of Crocs, Inc., Career, Sidelights [next] [back] Snipes, Wesley (1962–)

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