01 Apr

Having been locked down in Italy for four weeks to avoid the COVID19 , I started looking some of my archive material to publish as short articles. The first one is unfortunately rather topical . In 1863, my great-great grandfather James Moorcock was serving with the 3rd Battalion , 60th Regiment of Foot- more commonly known as the 60th Rifles. That year found him posted to Thayet-Myo, a desolate outpost right at the edge of the British Empire on the frontier with the (then) still independent Burma and right in the middle of a virulent Cholera epidemic. Cholera did not spring as suddenly on the world as COVID19, it had been endemic in India for centuries; however, as the British Empire expanded it appeared that unfortunately it took Cholera with it. In the first half of the 19th century, there were three great Cholera pandemics and outbreaks of Cholera spread around the shores of the Indian Ocean, to South East Asia and China , then to Africa and finally to the Americas .Cholera spread as far as Brazil and Colombia. Without it, Gabriel Garcia Marquez wouldn't have written the wonderful novel "Love in the Time of Cholera", with its beautifully evocative image of the riverboat hoisting the yellow plague " forever".  Cholera took hold in Europe, Thomas Mann's "Death in Venice" is set against the background of an outbreak in Venice. It even staged a brief comeback in Naples in the 1970s.   It is still endemic in many places. 

It has been suggested that British ships and British soldiers were the vectors that spread Cholera so widely. Certainly this seems plausible for Asia and East Africa, where the British used British soldiers based in India and Indian native troops to police their expanding domains. It seems fairly believable, that these troops or the ships they travelled on carried Cholera microbes to the four winds. It also seems not unreasonable that returning British soldiers took it back to the UK and the seat of Imperial Power with them  laying the seeds for the London cholera outbreaks.

There are some other interesting parallels. Once the Cholera began to run wild in Thayet-Myo, the British authorities were forced to introduce ; regular testing and the prompt isolation of symptomatic individuals. Social distancing was practised as they moved soldiers out of crowded barracks to give them more cubic feet of air. Just as brave medical staff are falling victim to COVID19, the heroic surgeon of the Rifles, fell ill and died from the effects of exhaustion and cholera after treating patients for a month without break, It was also curious who fell victim and who did not . Officers suffered a higher death rate than men, while British soldiers were far more badly affected than native soldiers. Recent studies have highlighted a close correlation between blood types and the severity of cholera infection. Coincidentally , I was reading an as yet not peer reviewed paper today, where the Chinese appear to have uncovered a statistically significant connection between COVID19 and blood types. One last thing, they didn't listen to experts in 1863 either. Five years before the Cholera epidemic , a medical expert had suggested that there were potential problems with the water supply at Thayet-Myo, but his advice was generally ignored. Anyway you can read the full article here. 


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