Life expectancy decreased substantially in this period, in some areas by much as 25 years. Some of the major diseases that changed population dynamics greatly were cholera, smallpox, tuberculosis amongst others. The government of Great Britain struggled to contain these diseases and it was only with better living conditions, increased sanitation, reduced virulence of the disease and vaccinations that finally reduced mortality rates. In modern day infectious diseases, many of the same concepts are applicable in their control and better understanding of these has led to a continuously increasing life expectancy since Victorian times.
Cholera was one infectious disease that increased mortality greatly. Cholera epidemics affected Great Britain, primarily London, between 1831 and 1866 (Halliday, 2001). While it was not known at the time, cholera is a water-borne disease that is caused by drinking water contaminated with choleric excreta. The bacterium is temperature dependent and multiplies rapidly in high temperatures (Cholera in England, 1893).
However, in the Victorian era, the `miasmatic` theory was formulated to explain incidence of cholera. This theory assumed it was air, not water, which acted as a vector of transmission (Halliday, 2001). This assumption was unsurprising given that air pollution was major problem in London at the time. In fact, during the summer of 1858, the river Thames, filled with sewage, was referred to “Great Stink”by the Times.
It was an anaesthetist, John Snow, who offered up an alternate explanation to the miasmatic theory. Snow observed that there was a high mortality amongst the users of a contaminated water pump during the cholera epidemic and persuaded the parish to remove it. This reduced mortality rates in the area greatly (Halliday, 2001). Furthermore, he observed that people getting their drinking water from a part of the Thames that was not polluted, showed much lower mortality rates. Unfortunately Snow’s ideas