Many attempts have been made to give some rational explanation of the cause of pestilential cholera. I will not pretend to say that I can. My object is simply to give a frank expression of my own opinion on the subject. This disease has heretofore been peculiar to a tropical region, and has been confined principally to India, but with propriety it may be now remarked, that it is a disease peculiar to no climate: It is traversing with frightful mortality in both the Eastern and Western hemispheres, extending from the torrid to the frigid zones; nor does a change of season appear to mitigate its virulence— it is alike in all. This being the case, it becomes a disease of the utmost concern to the whole human family.
I am strongly inclined to believe that the disease is of animal origin— that it depends upon atmospheric animalcule. I am strengthened in this belief, from the following circumstances. In the first place, if it be assumed that it depends on exhalations from the earth, I cannot see how the assumption can be maintained. These exhalations must arise from substances in a state of decomposition, for which there is no reason to believe that they have been more abundant or of a more deleterious character now or since the Cholera made its appearance in the north of Europe, or this country, than heretofore. This pestilence has existed with as much virulence during the verual as in the autumnal season, and when the air has been as pure, no doubt, as at any other previous period: hence it cannot with much propriety be attributed to aeriform poison, or any peculiar gaseous compound.— Secondly, nor can it be maintained (admitting the assumption) that it is owing to an inorganic corpuscle of any kind that fills the air, of a compound nature, invisible and untangible, because the decomposing properties of the atmosphere does and will resolve this compound into its primitive elements, and therefore become innoxious. There is nothing scarcely that can resist this law of nature, except it be an organized and living substance; and nothing but a minute living animal can exist, propagate and spread in the manner that the cause of cholera is spreading. Lastly, the disease often makes its appearance simultaneously in different sections of the same place or town— the circumstance may be readily explained upon the preceding views and upon the principle of these animals partaking of the nature of the insect tribe, congregating together, and being wafted by the air or attracted by something congenial to their habitudes to different localities in a short space of time, and where there is little intercourse between the infected points, as often happens. Their peculiar province is no doubt with the dissolute and filthy— hence the numerous deaths that occur among that class of beings.
The question may be asked, how do they affect the system? In responding to this I shall merely offer a few remarks: the animalculae are no doubt received into the stomach by nourishment, &c. and thence extend through the intestinal canal, producing irritation and inflammation. This state once developed, cholera makes its appearance by vomiting, purging, and other concomitant symptoms.— These remarks may be extended a little further by supposing that the animal may be so minute as to be received into the circulation, and thence pervades the whole system, insinuating themselves into the minute sanguineous vessels that attend and envelope the nerves and gangleons of the great sympathetic, and impair the functions of that system. If this be the case, the fatality of the disease and the many sudden deaths may be accounted for. If the preceding views be correct as to the nature of the disease, then may a practice be suggested, based upon the soundest pathological principles; this practice depends upon the administration of such articles as will destroy these animals in the system— such may be considered the volatile oils, turpentine for instance, sulphur, several of the resins, camphor particularly, and astringents; alum among the latter class would no doubt be valuable. X. Y. Z.
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