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One-hundred-fifty year old lessons of John Snow still relevant today

EAST LANSING, Mich. It was 150 years ago this September that a London physician named John Snow urged officials in his city to shut down a well-used water pump in the heart of the Soho district, a move that may have helped to hasten the end of a deadly cholera epidemic that had killed hundreds of people.

What Snow correctly suspected was that the water coming from that pump was carrying particles or what he called "special animal poisons" that caused the disease, an idea scoffed at by most of the medical community of that time, most of which believed that diseases were spread primarily through the air.

It was that type of thinking that has made Snow one of the most revered figures in the history of medicine, and what prompted five Michigan State University professors who call themselves the "snowflakes" to spend six years writing a comprehensive biography on the life and times of John Snow.

Titled "Cholera, Chloroform, and the Science of Medicine: A Life of John Snow," the recently published book is what the authors call a "scientific biography" of the man who was a pioneering figure in the fields of epidemiology, anesthesiology, and medical geography.

"We came together because of his legacy," said co-author Michael Rip, an assistant professor in MSU's James Madison College.

"He brilliantly integrated insights from different types of scientific thought, from molecular to population, and he marshaled all scientific tools available to him, often with great ingenuity," wrote co-author Nigel Paneth, a professor of epidemiology who has written a piece about Snow that will appear in the September issue of the journal Epidemiology.

Howard Brody, a professor of family practice and a co-author, said in doing research for the book he was constantly amazed at Snow's ability to think beyond what was already known.

"It was as if I was reading something written by a contemporary, very direct and logical and to the point
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Contact: Tom Oswald
oswald@msu.edu
517-432-0920
Michigan State University
27-Aug-2004


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