How beer “cured” the cholera epidemic of 1854 – Manila Bulletin


A true story where a pandemic is solved by non-medical methods. Data analysis, visualization and beer consumption combined to “cure” cholera.

The date is August 31, 1854, you are John Snow, the Queen’s anesthesiologist. You are stumped over one of the deadliest diseases affecting your country. According to some accounts, a neighbor left for work in the morning, returned late in the afternoon and died the next day. Whole homes have been infected. The neighborhoods are in panic.

The greatest medical authorities have speculated that it could be carried by “bad air” (miasma theory) or the “bad smells” of decaying organic matter. This thought has dominated official medical and government statements. The recently created Equivalent to the Board of Health is a strong supporter of this theory.

As proof, their data show that the people most affected were those living at low altitude. The “bad air” must have flowed to the lower altitudes and infected them. People living at higher altitudes have not been infected.

You have doubts about the “Bad Air” theory. You have seen these same symptoms happen to minors. You were with them in the mines. You think if it was “Bad Air” you would have caught the disease yourself. You decide to go around and talk to the neighbors about those who have been infected. You note where the victims lived.

Here is the data you collected:

Seeing the data, you decide to plot it. And There you go ! You see something suspicious. This could be the cause of the epidemic. If your intuition is correct, a simple solution will solve this epidemic.

Some tools you can use to plot and visualize the data YOURSELF are Tableau, QGIS, Kepler.GL, and Mapbox.

That little red dot in the middle is the PUMP.
This GAS PUMP icon is the water pump that is at the heart of the analysis. The larger the people icon, the more cases there are in those areas.
The yellow hexagon is the pump. The higher the purple hexagon, the more people have died from cholera.

What is the common thread of all these mysterious cases? And seeing this, what should be done? Finally, how to obtain support and / or convince the authorities to act?

Well, you can show that there is a strong correlation between the distance to the central water PUMP and the number of cases nearby. You show it to the town hall.

But your detractors (contrabida) now point out that the brewery that is NEAR said PUMP did not have many cases. And that’s where drinking beer comes in.

Upon further investigation, you find that the brewery workers CAN and HAVE drunk beer. This saved them from the Vibrio Cholerae contagion that caused the pandemic.

So you, John Snow, approached the local city council and tried to convince them to just pull the handle off the pump. This prevented people from drinking from the contaminated source. Cholera cases have decreased and come to an end. The people who fled have returned.

Our hero, you, and data with analytics saved the day. Can we do the same for COVID-19.



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