A series of great pandemic
s began in the early nineteenth century known as the Asiatic Cholera Pandemics. They first affected almost every Asia
n country, and then grew to have effects in many countries worldwide. Cholera
is an intestinal infection caused by the bacterium Vibro cholerae
. It is typically passed through contamined food
sources, and fatality
rates are higher in areas where no medical treatment is available and no clean water sources are used.
The earliest reported cases before the plague became widespread were in Purneah (modern Purnia) in Bihar in 1816. However, the specific origins of the pandemic have been attributed to the town of Jessore (near Calcutta) in August of 1817. Local doctors reported multiple incidents of severe gastrointestinal desease among the people. In the case of the Pandemic of 1817-1823, contamined rice passed the disease. Thousands of people in the area where stricken with vomiting and diarrhea and died. It spread quickly throughout the country by British soldiers who were travelling through the area. It eventually reached Sri Lanka in December of 1818.
The British soldiers transmitted the disease to Afghan and Nepalese soldiers that they were fighting against in northern India. Afterwards, it quickly spread by land to Burma and Thailand, and travelled by sea to Sumatra, Java, China, Japan, and the mainland of southeast Asia.
The pandemic spread to Muscat in Oman in 1821 in response to the slave trade, and was passed from there along the coast of Africa to Zanzibar. The invasion of the Persian Gulf in 1821 saw the disease spread up through Baghdad, infecting a Persian army as well as Syria, Anatolia, and Astrakhan in southern Russia.
The rapid spreading of the disease and its range outside of India had come as a shock to the population, and as a result, many died from this first outbreak. Later incarnations of the disease would be even more disasterous than the earliest one.
Theories about the return of the disease are numerous. One interesting one is that the cholera never fully disappeared in the infected waters, but when into a dormant, noninfective state. It reemerged when environmental conditions were favorable, accounting for the numerous outbreaks after this first one beginning in 1817. Evidence supporting the theory of the continuous contamination of water is the discovery that some species of plankton can act as hosts for the dormant cholera, allowing for it to remain in the water and reappear again. Another fact confirming this is the seasonal outbreaks of cholera in Bangladesh which coincide with plankton booms in the Bay of Bengal.