Kirsten, American Girl: Deep Dive
With the COVID-19 pandemic still on the forefront of our lives, it’s not hard to imagine how Kirsten felt when her friend, Marta, suddenly contracted cholera and died. There have been a total of seven major global pandemics of cholera spanning every continent and decade, beginning in earnest in Jessore, India, in 1817. History.com does an incredible job of summarizing the history of cholera.
At the time, and as we see in Meet Kirsten, no one was sure how cholera was spread; Marta’s parents urge Kirsten to stay away from her, saying that it’s dangerous and that she might contract cholera as well. However, the disease isn’t spread person-to-person, but rather most commonly through drinking water contaminated by the Vibrio cholerae bacterium. British physician John Snow was the first to discover this after carefully mapping out cases in the Soho area of London (you can read more about cholera in Victorian London in this article from the London Science Museum) during the third and deadliest cholera pandemic. Steven Johnson details Snow’s Sherlock Holmes-like focus in his 2006 novel, The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic — and How it Changed Science, Cities and the Modern World.
Unfortunately, Marta’s sudden death was not uncommon. According to the CDC, 1 in 10 people who contract cholera will experience severe symptoms, quickly losing body fluids. Dehydration and shock can lead to death within hours, especially among children and the elderly. Cholera is completely treatable through the immediate and aggressive replacement of fluids lost through diarrhea and vomiting (hydration). However, despite her lips being described as dry and cracked in the book, Marta’s family would have had no way of knowing how to ease her pain. The CDC does a great job explaining the treatment of cholera, as well as providing more information about the vaccine, on their website.
Today, thanks to increases in water sanitation and strict personal hygiene, cholera might finally be on the way out. In October 2017, the World Health Organization’s Global Task Force on Cholera Control launched their “Ending Cholera: A Global Roadmap to 2030.” The country-led project aims to eradicate cholera in up to 20 countries by 2030.