Dr. John Snow was a leading physician in Britain during the Victorian Era. He is one of the founders of modern epidemiology. Epidemiology is the study of epidemic disease this included how it spread, what caused it, and how it could be controlled. He is known for his work to find the source of the 1854 cholera outbreak. At the time the main theory on disease transmission was called miasma theory. Miasma theory stated that diseases were a result of there being miasma in the air. Miasma was thought to be a poisonous vapor that consisted of decaying matter and known for its horrible smell. This theory became popular in the Middle Ages and was the prevailing theory for several centuries. Snow’s study contradicted this theory, his study later was realized to be evidence for germ theory which became a common theory after Snow’s death. Germ theory claims that diseases are caused by micro-organisms that are in the body. This theory slowly gained acceptance in the mid 1800s. Eventually germ theory became the prevailing theory instead of miasma and contagion theories. It completely changed the practice of medicine and is still a guiding theory today.
In London during the Victorian era, the streets were crowded and unsanitary which resulted in cholera being a common ailment. The outbreak in 1854 provided Dr. Snow with the conditions to perform his study that aimed to show that cholera could be spread by contaminated water or food. Snow gathered data on the locations where cholera was causing death. As a result Snow was able to show that most of the cases of cholera centered around one area, a public water pump in Soho. He was able to convince officials to remove the handle from the pump but by the time he did the worst of the epidemic has passed. Dr. John Snow was also an advocate of hygienic practices and anesthesia in medical practices. He did experiments with ether and created a way to use the gas safely on patients. When chloroform became the superior anesthetic, Snow designed a mask to administer it. Snow personally dosed Queen Victoria with chloroform when she was in labor with her eighth and ninth children, in 1853 and 1857. Since the Queen was such a high-profile patient, anesthetics became more accepted by the public for use in child-birth.