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The Story of Cholera


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Although largely unseen today in wealthy nations, cholera is a pressing global health concern; the World Health Organization estimates that there are 3–5 million cholera cases and over 100,000 deaths every year. Yet this acute diarrheal disease can be treated more simply than you might think. This video by Yoni Goodman and the Global Health Media Project tells the story of cholera in one village.

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Cholera is caused by Vibrio cholerae, a Gram negative, curved rod-shaped bacterium. For more information about its taxonomy and structure, go to the National Institutes of Health or the World Health Organization.

Cholera caused discord when an outbreak in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake killed more than 8,000 citizens. The country had not dealt with a cholera epidemic in a century, according to a Foreign Affairs article about the situation, "Peace and Pestilence," which also described the outrage that spread when investigators discovered the origins of the pathogen in Haiti. Nepalese peacekeepers from the United Nations had been disposing of human waste improperly--sending cholera into a tributary feeding the largest river in the nation.

The disease wreaked havoc in London in the mid-1800s, where outbreaks caused more than 50,000 deaths. This spurred on the development of modern epidemiology, thanks to a young man named Dr. John Snow (no relation to Game of Thrones) who correctly hypothesized after exacting research that cholera pathogens were spreading through contaminated water at one street's pump. His removal of the Broad Street pump handle, stemming the flow of new cholera cases, proved to be an important moment in public health history. You can read more about the 1854 cholera outbreak and the Broad Street pump, in this Wired article or Steven Berlin's suspenseful non-fiction work The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World.

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