Preventing cholera

1896 Preventing cholera

The book of science

Tom Sharp

Ernest Hanbury Hankin medicine Preventing cholera

Preventing cholera

Ernest Hanbury Hankin worked under Louis Pasteur in Paris and under Robert Koch in Berlin. He studied malaria and cholera in India and challenged the persistent view that miasmas cause disease. He did more than anyone before him to call for sanitation, saying that boiling water could protect against cholera.

Water of the Ganges

For centuries the people of India fervently believed the waters of the Ganges were sacred and incorruptible. Hankin noted that waters of the Ganges and Yamuna included an anti-bacterial agent against vibrio cholerae. Hankin’s paper on this was among the first observations of what were later called bacteriophages.

Speaking the obvious

Others before Hankin had tried to make clear, the obvious; but it takes more than trying to penetrate traditional belief. It takes more than trying to spell relief. The last I checked, no one was listening. They were thinking about the game, or the sound of rain dripping off the eaves reminded them of a place they had left behind, where they couldn’t return. If it’s possible, nobody wants to be told again the obvious; if it’s impossible, maybe then they will pay a little attention.

In a moving scene in the second film of Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy, Aparajito, the ten-year-old Apu is sent to the banks of Ganges for holy water that his mother trickles into his father’s mouth as he is dying.

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