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The first cholera pandemic (1817–1824), also known as the first Asiatic cholera pandemic or Asiatic cholera, began near the city of Calcutta and spread throughout South and Southeast Asia to the Middle East, eastern Africa and the Mediterranean coast.[1][2] While cholera had spread across India many times previously, this outbreak went further; it reached as far as China and the Mediterranean Sea before subsiding. Hundreds of thousands of people died as a result of this pandemic, including many British soldiers, which attracted European attention. This was the first of several cholera pandemics to sweep through Asia and Europe during the 19th and 20th centuries. This first pandemic spread over an unprecedented range of territory, affecting almost every country in Asia.

Distribution of cholera during the first cholera pandemic

After spreading beyond India, the first cholera pandemic hit other parts of Asia and the African coast the hardest.[4] It would not be until later epidemics of cholera that it would ravage Europe and the Americas.[4] In March 1820, the disease was identified in Siam, in May 1820 it had spread as far as Bangkok and Manila, in spring of 1821 it reached Java, Oman, and After spreading beyond India, the first cholera pandemic hit other parts of Asia and the African coast the hardest.[4] It would not be until later epidemics of cholera that it would ravage Europe and the Americas.[4] In March 1820, the disease was identified in Siam, in May 1820 it had spread as far as Bangkok and Manila, in spring of 1821 it reached Java, Oman, and Anhai in China; in 1822 it was found in Japan, in the Persian Gulf, in Baghdad, in Syria, and in the Transcaucasus; and in 1823 cholera reached Astrakhan, Zanzibar, and Mauritius.[1]

When the epidemic reached Russia and specifically Astrakhan, their response was to formulate an anti-Cholera program in 1823.[7] This program was headed by a German physician by the name of Dr. Rehmann.[7] The Anti-Cholera program inspired the creation of a medical-administration board by Tsar Alexander I that inspired similar medical administration across Europe.[7]

In 1824, transmission of the disease ended. Some researchers believe that may have been due to the cold winter of 1823–1824, which would have killed the bacteria in the water supplies.[1]

The spread of the first cholera pandemic was closely linked to warfare and trade.Astrakhan, their response was to formulate an anti-Cholera program in 1823.[7] This program was headed by a German physician by the name of Dr. Rehmann.[7] The Anti-Cholera program inspired the creation of a medical-administration board by Tsar Alexander I that inspired similar medical administration across Europe.[7]

In 1824, transmission of the disease ended. Some researchers believe that may have been due to the cold winter of 1823–1824, which would have killed the bacteria in the water supplies.[1]

The spread of the first cholera pandemic was closely linked to warfare and trade.[4] Navy and merchant ships carried people with the disease to the shores of the Indian Ocean, from Africa to Indonesia, and north to China and Japan.[8] During the Ottoman-Persian War of 1821-1823, cholera would affect both armies in what is modern-day Armenia.[4] Hindu pilgrims carried cholera within the subcontinent, as had happened many times previously, but British troops carried it overland to Nepal and Afghanistan. In 1821, British troops brought the disease to Oman from India.[4]

The total deaths from the epidemic remain unknown. Scholars of particular areas have estimated death tolls. For instance, some estimate that Bangkok might have suffered 30,000 deaths from the disease. In Semarang, Java, 1,225 people died in eleven days in April 1821.[1]

As for India, the initially reported mortality rate was estimated to be 1.25 million per year, placing the death toll at around 8,750,000.[9] However, this report was certainly an overestimation as David Arnold writes: "The death toll in 1817–21 was un

As for India, the initially reported mortality rate was estimated to be 1.25 million per year, placing the death toll at around 8,750,000.[9] However, this report was certainly an overestimation as David Arnold writes: "The death toll in 1817–21 was undoubtedly great, but there is no evidence to suggest that it was as uniformly high as Moreau de Jonnès presumed. [...] Statistics collected by James Jameson for the Bengal Medical Board showed mortality in excess of 10,000 in several districts. [...] Although reporting was sketchy, for the Madras districts as a whole the mortality during the height of the epidemic appears to have been around 11 to 12 per 1,000. If this figure were applied to the whole of India, with a population of some 120-150 million, the total number of deaths would have been no more than one or two million."[10]

According to historian Samuel Kohn, epidemics in antiquity often brought people of a society together.[11] However, some diseases such as cholera produced rather the opposite, triggering blame and even violence.[11] Often times, fear of cholera outbreaks would lead to increased racial tensions.[12] The cholera pandemic's origin in India led to a rise in anti-Asian sentiment, especially towards Indian people and culture, in the West during the initial outbreak and following more outbreaks decades later.[13] The disease was subsequently associated with Asia and South Asia, in particular, was seen as in some way to blame for cholera.[13] Derision towards Indian cultural practices, especially Hindu pilgrimages, and hygiene following the initial outbreak were reported.[13] Speaking about the anti-Asian sentiment that rose after the outbreak, British historian David Arnold said, "The Indian origins of cholera and its almost global dissemination from Bengal made the disease a convenient symbol for much that the west feared or despised about a society so different from its own".[13] Medical professionals of the time were also noted for relying on moral judgments and generalisations of Indian people on pilgrimages.[13] The sanitary commissioner of Bengal in British India, Dr. David Smith said,"the human mind can scarcely sink lower than it has done in connection with the appalling degeneration of idol-worship at Pooree".[13] During the outbreak, British authorities launched inquiries into the conditions of South Asian people on pilgrimages and eventually classified pilgrims as a "dangerous class" who were placed under surveillance.[13] Historian Christopher Hamlin compared the quarantine policies against Muslim pilgrims to concentration camps, and states that cholera led to an increase in authoritarianism which saw the suspension of civil rights due to fear of the disease.[12]

The Years After 1824

In the years after the pandemic subsided in many areas of the world, there were still small outbreaks, and pockets of cholera remained.[7] In the period from 1823 to 1829, the first cholera outbreak remained outside of much of Europe.[7] Its spread into Europe in the years after the initial outbreak started with the spread of the bacterium to the Russian empire yet again.[7] Historians theorize that the spread back into Europe was largely to due to its movement in the Russian river system.[7] This movement of the virus in the rivers of Russia allowed cholera to reach England by 1832, and the Americas shortly afterword.[7] Special deputations from the west traveled to Russia to observe the Russian response and formulate a plan to deal with these pocketed outbreaks.[7] Reports from this committee of scientists were bleak, with one Dr. Rauch proclaiming that, "the cholera will not be cured by nature's powers alone without the help of art...".[7] The conclusion of Dr. Rauch's findings was that no one standardized method was the key to controlling an outbreak.[7] By 1835. these pockets of the bacterium claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and had left its painful mark.[7] This timeline from 1826 to 1837 is widely described as the second cholera pandemic.[14] One of the seven main cholera pandemics in history, extending into the modern day.[14]

See also