Global & Disaster Medicine

Archive for the ‘Historical Event’ Category

March 22, 2016: Two blasts ripped through the Brussels airport, turning a busy travel hub in the heart of Europe into a scene of carnage.

NY Times


Belgium: A memorial to the victims of terrorism will be unveiled in Brussels on the first anniversary of the attacks that killed 32 people and injured more than 320.

The Guardian

The Guardian -March 2016


March 20, 1995: In Tokyo, 12 people were killed and more than 5,500 others sickened when packages containing sarin leaked on 5 separate subway trains.

March 18, 1925: The Tri-State Tornado, the worst tornado in U.S. history, passes through eastern Missouri, southern Illinois, and southern Indiana, killing 695 people, injuring some 13,000 people, and causing $17 million in property damage.

March 18, 1937: Nearly 300 students in Texas are killed by an explosion of natural gas at The Consolidated School of New London, Texas.

Steven Johnson: How the “ghost map” helped end a killer disease

Steven Johnson

0:11If you haven’t ordered yet, I generally find the rigatoni with the spicy tomato sauce goes best with diseases of the small intestine.


0:23So, sorry — it just feels like I should be doing stand-up up here because of the setting. No, what I want to do is take you back to 1854 in London for the next few minutes, and tell the story — in brief — of this outbreak, which in many ways, I think, helped create the world that we live in today, and particularly the kind of city that we live in today. This period in 1854, in the middle part of the 19th century, in London’s history, is incredibly interesting for a number of reasons. But I think the most important one is thatLondon was this city of 2.5 million people, and it was the largest city on the face of the planet at that point. But it was also the largest city that had ever been built.

1:06And so the Victorians were trying to live through and simultaneously invent a whole new scale of living:this scale of living that we, you know, now call “metropolitan living.” And it was in many ways, at this point in the mid-1850s, a complete disaster. They were basically a city living with a modern kind of industrial metropolis with an Elizabethan public infrastructure. So people, for instance, just to gross you out for a second, had cesspools of human waste in their basement. Like, a foot to two feet deep. And they would just kind of throw the buckets down there and hope that it would somehow go away, and of course it never really would go away. And all of this stuff, basically, had accumulated to the point where the city was incredibly offensive to just walk around in.

1:57It was an amazingly smelly city. Not just because of the cesspools, but also the sheer number of livestock in the city would shock people. Not just the horses, but people had cows in their attics that they would use for milk, that they would hoist up there and keep them in the attic until literally their milk ran out and they died, and then they would drag them off to the bone boilers down the street. So, you would just walk around London at this point and just be overwhelmed with this stench. And what ended up happening is that an entire emerging public health system became convinced that it was the smell that was killing everybody, that was creating these diseases that would wipe through the city every three or four years.And cholera was really the great killer of this period.

2:41It arrived in London in 1832, and every four or five years another epidemic would take 10,000, 20,000 people in London and throughout the U.K. And so the authorities became convinced that this smell was this problem. We had to get rid of the smell. And so, in fact, they concocted a couple of early, you know,founding public-health interventions in the system of the city, one of which was called the “Nuisances Act,” which they got everybody as far as they could to empty out their cesspools and just pour all that waste into the river. Because if we get it out of the streets, it’ll smell much better, and — oh right, we drink from the river. So what ended up happening, actually, is they ended up increasing the outbreaks of cholera because, as we now know, cholera is actually in the water. It’s a waterborne disease, not something that’s in the air. It’s not something you smell or inhale; it’s something you ingest.

3:36And so one of the founding moments of public health in the 19th century effectively poisoned the water supply of London much more effectively than any modern day bioterrorist could have ever dreamed of doing. So this was the state of London in 1854, and in the middle of all this carnage and offensive conditions, and in the midst of all this scientific confusion about what was actually killing people, it was a very talented classic 19th century multi-disciplinarian named John Snow, who was a local doctor in Soho in London, who had been arguing for about four or five years that cholera was, in fact, a waterborne disease, and had basically convinced nobody of this. The public health authorities had largely ignored what he had to say. And he’d made the case in a number of papers and done a number of studies, but nothing had really stuck. And part of — what’s so interesting about this story to me is that in some ways, it’s a great case study in how cultural change happens, how a good idea eventually comes to win out over much worse ideas. And Snow labored for a long time with this great insight that everybody ignored.

4:46And then on one day, August 28th of 1854, a young child, a five-month-old girl whose first name we don’t know, we know her only as Baby Lewis, somehow contracted cholera, came down with cholera at 40 Broad Street. You can’t really see it in this map, but this is the map that becomes the central focus in the second half of my book. It’s in the middle of Soho, in this working class neighborhood, this little girl becomes sick and it turns out that the cesspool, that they still continue to have, despite the Nuisances Act, bordered on an extremely popular water pump, local watering hole that was well known for the best water in all of Soho, that all the residents from Soho and the surrounding neighborhoods would go to.

5:31And so this little girl inadvertently ended up contaminating the water in this popular pump, and one of the most terrifying outbreaks in the history of England erupted about two or three days later. Literally, 10 percent of the neighborhood died in seven days, and much more would have died if people hadn’t fledafter the initial outbreak kicked in. So it was this incredibly terrifying event. You had these scenes of entire families dying over the course of 48 hours of cholera, alone in their one-room apartments, in their little flats. Just an extraordinary, terrifying scene. Snow lived near there, heard about the outbreak, and in this amazing act of courage went directly into the belly of the beast because he thought an outbreak that concentrated could actually potentially end up convincing people that, in fact, the real menace of cholera was in the water supply and not in the air. He suspected an outbreak that concentrated would probably involve a single point source. One single thing that everybody was going to because it didn’t have the traditional slower path of infections that you might expect.

6:42And so he went right in there and started interviewing people. He eventually enlisted the help of this amazing other figure, who’s kind of the other protagonist of the book — this guy, Henry Whitehead, who was a local minister, who was not at all a man of science, but was incredibly socially connected; he knew everybody in the neighborhood. And he managed to track down, Whitehead did, many of the cases of people who had drunk water from the pump, or who hadn’t drunk water from the pump. And eventually Snow made a map of the outbreak. He found increasingly that people who drank from the pump were getting sick. People who hadn’t drunk from the pump were not getting sick. And he thought about representing that as a kind of a table of statistics of people living in different neighborhoods, people who hadn’t, you know, percentages of people who hadn’t, but eventually he hit upon the idea that what he needed was something that you could see. Something that would take in a sense a higher-level view of all this activity that had been happening in the neighborhood.

7:33And so he created this map, which basically ended up representing all the deaths in the neighborhoodsas black bars at each address. And you can see in this map, the pump right at the center of it and you can see that one of the residences down the way had about 15 people dead. And the map is actually a little bit bigger. As you get further and further away from the pump, the deaths begin to grow less and less frequent. And so you can see this something poisonous emanating out of this pump that you could see in a glance. And so, with the help of this map, and with the help of more evangelizing that he did over the next few years and that Whitehead did, eventually, actually, the authorities slowly started to come around. It took much longer than sometimes we like to think in this story, but by 1866, when the next big cholera outbreak came to London, the authorities had been convinced — in part because of this story, in part because of this map — that in fact the water was the problem.

8:30And they had already started building the sewers in London, and they immediately went to this outbreakand they told everybody to start boiling their water. And that was the last time that London has seen a cholera outbreak since. So, part of this story, I think — well, it’s a terrifying story, it’s a very dark story and it’s a story that continues on in many of the developing cities of the world. It’s also a story really that is fundamentally optimistic, which is to say that it’s possible to solve these problems if we listen to reason, if we listen to the kind of wisdom of these kinds of maps, if we listen to people like Snow and Whitehead, if we listen to the locals who understand what’s going on in these kinds of situations. And what it ended up doing is making the idea of large-scale metropolitan living a sustainable one.

9:14When people were looking at 10 percent of their neighborhoods dying in the space of seven days, there was a widespread consensus that this couldn’t go on, that people weren’t meant to live in cities of 2.5 million people. But because of what Snow did, because of this map, because of the whole series of reforms that happened in the wake of this map, we now take for granted that cities have 10 million people, cities like this one are in fact sustainable things. We don’t worry that New York City is going to collapse in on itself quite the way that, you know, Rome did, and be 10 percent of its size in 100 years or 200 years. And so that in a way is the ultimate legacy of this map. It’s a map of deaths that ended up creating a whole new way of life, the life that we’re enjoying here today. Thank you very much.

John Snow, known as the father of epidemiology, was born on March 15, 1813.


Snow cholera map

Map of cholera cases in Soho, London, 1854. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

John Snow, known as the father of epidemiology, was born on March 15, 1813. This week, we honor the birthday of the first true disease detective.

The Story of the Broad Street Pump

London, 1854: A cramped Soho neighborhood teems with people and animals living in cramped and dirty quarters. A deadly outbreak of cholera is spreading. Doctors and scientists believe it’s caused by “miasma,” or bad air. They theorize that particles from rotting matter and waste are getting into the air and making people sick.

Enter John Snow. An accomplished physician, he becomes convinced that something other than the air might be responsible for the illness. Through carefully mapping the outbreak, he finds that everyone affected has a single connection in common: they have all retrieved water from the local Broad Street pump.

On September 8, 1854, Snow tests his theory by removing the pump’s handle, effectively stopping the outbreak, proving his theory, and opening the door to modern epidemiology.

Valuable Lessons for a Modern Age

In 1854, John Snow was the first to use maps and records to track the spread of a disease back to its source. Today, his ideas provide the foundation for how we find and stop disease all over the world.

We have better, more modern tools now for identifying and tracking illness, like access to state-of-the-art labs and computer systems. We have in-depth knowledge of germs and how they spread. But when we train today’s disease detectives, we still return to the basics. CDC disease detectives are trained to look for clues by asking:

  • WHO is sick?
  • WHAT are their symptoms?
  • WHEN did they get sick?
  • WHERE could they have been exposed to the cause of the illness?

We live in a world where disease can travel across the globe in a matter of hours. This means we must not only apply these basic lessons of epidemiology, but we must constantly be looking for ways to find better answers, faster.

Disease Detectives Make a DifferenceEpidemic Intelligence Service

When outbreaks or other threats emerge, CDC’s disease detectives, some of whom are trained through our Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS), are on the scene. These boots-on-the ground staff, called EIS officers, support over 100 public health investigations (Epi-Aids) each year in the U.S. and worldwide.

CDC’s disease detectives have been instrumental in tracking down threats like:

Anthrax: During the 2001 anthrax outbreak among U.S. postal workers, disease detectives investigated the route of contaminated envelopes and how workers became infected.

E. coli: For the first time, disease detectives conclusively showed that flour was the source of a 2016 E. coli outbreak. Millions of pounds of flour were taken off the shelves, including flour-containing products like bread, cake, and muffin mixes.

Seoul virus: Disease detectives have been working to track and stop an outbreak of Seoul virus, an emerging rodent-borne hantavirus, involving home-based rat breeders this year. The outbreak was first identified after two Wisconsin rat breeders became ill in December and, as of March 13, the investigation has so far included rat-breeding facilities in 15 states, with 17 people infected in seven states.

Like Snow’s map that revealed cases of cholera congregated around the Broad Street pump, we must keep tabs on where and how disease is spreading. Once the source of disease is identified, it is crucial to develop and implement interventions to help prevent people from getting sick. We must remain innovative and creative, like Snow when he removed the handle of the Broad Street pump to stop disease at the source.


Lava Flows from the Past

March 8, 1669: Mount Etna in Sicily begins rumbling and multiple eruptions over the next few weeks will kill more than 20,000 people and left thousands more homeless.

History Channel

Recent eruption on Mount Etna

Markers of Disease Severity in Patients with Spanish Influenza in the Japanese Armed Forces, 1919–1920

EID Journal

Kudo K, Manabe T, Izumi S, Takasaki J, Fujikura Y, Kawana A, et al. Markers of disease severity in patients with Spanish influenza in the Japanese Armed Forces, 1919–1920. Emerg Infect Dis. 2017 Apr [date cited].

“…..The first and second waves of the Spanish influenza pandemic in Japan affected ≈21 million persons (257,000 deaths) and 2 million persons (127,000 deaths), respectively. ……….

The Study

We analyzed medical charts preserved at the former First Army Hospital in Tokyo, Japan, and other affiliated hospitals. We previously described the clinical features of Spanish influenza among patients who were hospitalized at several study sites (2). Recently, additional records of patients affected by the second wave of disease during 1919–1920 were discovered, and these patients were the subjects of this study.

A total of 470 patients hospitalized during January 1919–January 1920 and diagnosed with Spanish influenza (as “epidemic cold” or “pneumonia due to epidemic cold”) fit the criteria for inclusion in the study. All patients were male soldiers or officers in the military of Japan. We collected data concerning patients’ general background and physical assessments, including lung sounds and fever charts. Among all patients, 8 (2%) died. We divided the patients who survived (n = 462, 98%) into 3 groups on the basis of hospitalization length: <10 days (28%), 11–20 days (34%), and >21 days (36%); we compared variables among the 3 groups. High fever was defined as a body temperature >38°C, and diphasic fever was defined as a body temperature >38°C after the initial fever had decreased to <37.5°C. Data on adventitious lung sounds collected during the hospitalization period were classified (on the basis of international classifications) as continuous, discontinuous, bronchial on the chest wall, and friction rub sounds (3). The study was approved by the Institutional Review Board of the National Center for Global Health and Medicine, Tokyo, Japan.

Of the 8 patients who died, 6 died within 10 days of hospital admission. Median length of hospitalization was 7 days for nonsurvivors and 16 days for survivors. The proportion of patients with audible adventitious lung sounds was significantly higher among those hospitalized for >21 days and among those who did not survive (Table 1( Factors associated with the length of hospitalization in survivors (identified by using a Cox hazard proportional model) included diphasic fever, >6 days of continuing high fever from admission, a maximum respiration rate >26 breaths/min, and adventitious discontinuous lung sounds (Table 2(……”


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