Snow, John

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Snow, John

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Born in York, the son of a labourer working at a coal yard and later as a farmer. Growing up in a poor neighbourhood by the River Ouse, Snow had early experience of unsanitary conditions and contaminated water and sewage. He first encountered cholera epidemic during his apprenticeship as surgeon-apothecary in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, which he started aged 14; he treated many of the victims of the disease in Killingworth. He worked as an assistant to a colliery surgeon in a coal mine in County Durham and in West Riding of Yorkshire 1832-1835.

He moved to London, and from 1836 he was a student at the Hunterian School of Medicine on Great Windmill Street. He worked at Westminster Hospital 1837. MD from the University of London 1844. Member of the Royal College of Surgeons 1838, the Royal College of Physicians 1850 and the Westminster Medical Society. Founding member of the Epidemiological Society of London, formed in 1850 in response to the 1849 cholera outbreak. Private practice as surgeon and GP on 54 Frith Street, Soho.

He studied physic at St George's Hospital 1848-50, and experimented with his use of anaesthetics at St George's.

Snow was one of the early adopters of the use of ether and chloroform as surgical anaesthetics, designing an apparatus and a mask for safely administering ether to patients. He administered chloroform to Queen Victoria during the births of the last two of her children in 1853 and 1857, making the use of obstetric anaesthesia more popular.

Snow did not believe in the then-current miasma theory of the origins of diseases such as cholera, according to which they were spread by 'bad air'. During the 1854 cholera outbreak in Soho, Snow identified the public water pump on Broad Street (later Browdwick Street) as the source of the outbreak by studying the pattern and dissemination of the disease in the area. The pump handle was replaced, but Snow's theory did not immediately gain wide acceptance.

Published widely on on anaesthesia and cholera.

Teetotaller, and part of the temperance movement. Ovo-lacto-vegetarian and later vegan, until suffering from a renal disorder later in life, which he attributed to his vegan diet, Snow tried to only drink pure, boiled water. He never married. He died in London 10 Jun 1858 aged 45 following a stroke. He was buried in Brompton Cemetery.


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Wikipedia; John Snow Society; London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; Wellcome Collection (John Snow's certificate, St. George's Hospital, 1850); St George's Archives and Special Collections

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