University of Vermont

Dana Medical Library Exhibit Explores the History of Humans and Cholera

Cholera Exhibit in the Dana Medical Library
The exhibit Cholera: Man Versus Microbe runs through the fall 2013 semester at the Dana Medical Library on the UVM College of Medicine campus. (Photo by Ed Neuert)

A new exhibit at the Dana Medical Library on the campus of the University of Vermont College of Medicine traces the history of the relationship of humankind and an extremely virulent disease. Cholera: Man Versus Microbe, curated by Library Associate Professor Frances Delwiche, MLIS, runs through the fall 2013 semester.

Cholera is an infection of the small intestine by the vibrio cholera bacterium. The microbe rapidly proliferates and causes massive dehydration of its human host through diarrhea and vomiting. For decades the disease was particularly feared because of its mysterious origins -- it usually arose suddenly in an area, seemed to spread indiscriminately, and caused rapid death in almost all its victims. And it was a disease that, for most of the western world, seemed to appear out of nowhere in the 19th Century. In fact, cholera had been endemic to the region of sub-continental India for millennia until first arising in epidemic form in Russia in 1817. There have been seven cholera pandemics since that time.

The exhibit explores the rise of cholera as a worldwide concern, and the work of pioneering scientists such as Britain’s John Snow. During the 1854 epidemic of cholera in England, Snow carefully mapped the known cases of the disease in a London neighborhood and, through this early use of epidemiological science, discovered the source of the outbreak to be a common drinking water well.

Advances in water sanitation have helped contain the spread of cholera, but it is still a worldwide concern, especially in the developing world. More than 500,000 cases of cholera and over 7,000 deaths were reported from an outbreak in Haiti in 2010.

The exhibit also spotlights the work of biomedical researchers at the UVM’s Vaccine Testing Center who are currently conducting a phase three clinical trail of a cholera vaccine.