Essay on The Ghost Map By Steven Johnson

Essay on The Ghost Map By Steven Johnson

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“The Ghost Map,” written by Steven Johnson, told a narrative story of the cholera outbreak in London. In the summer of 1854, the patient zero, an infant child of Sarah Lewis, became sick with cholera. In the midst of the panic that Sarah Lewis felt losing her child, she threw the infected waste into a cesspool nearby her home. This is how the cholera outbreak began. Soon there were reports of cholera all over London, and multiple theories of how cholera was contracted were published in newspapers and journals. The most prevalent was the Miasma Theory, the belief that the city’s crowding, along with poor sanitation and hygiene, created a foul smell in the air which, when inhaled, caused the epidemic disease. However, John Snow would be the one to discover that it was not the foul air that caused cholera, though the filthy environment was a strong contributing factor. It was the waste-filled water, which when consumed, caused the outbreak.
John Snow, a gifted anesthesiologist, investigated the disease during his free time. He found a link to the number of deaths in Broad Street with the Broad Street pump, though it seemed that this pump was less foul than other water pumps in nearby areas. After visiting the homes of families who fell victim to the outbreak, he discovered that most had consumed their water from the Broad Street pump, and the ones that had not, such as the Lion Brewery and St. James Workhouse, consumed their water from a different source, and had suffered few, if any, losses of their own. Snow took his case to the Board of Governors, and the pump handle at the Broad Street well was removed. Henry Whitehead, a clergyman of the town who spent each day visiting the families that fell victim to the outbreak, did not b...


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...cause the removal of the pump handle halted the epidemic1, but it did not remove the real cause of the outbreak: contaminated water. In Aronson’s analogy, the pump handle was to metal detectors as contaminated water was to lack of empathy and emotional intelligence1. In other words, Aronson meant that the removal of the pump handle stopped the epidemic from spreading more on Broad Street, but the real solution would come from removal of contamination in the water.
Other than Aronson’s reference to the pump handle solution, he did not go into the details of how Snow came to his solution, and slightly gave the impression that John Snow’s intervention had not solved the root cause of the cholera epidemic. Before reading “The Ghost Map”, I had little idea of how impactful Snow’s work really was, not only on the cholera outbreak in 1854, but also on Public Health today.  

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