Asiatic Cholera Pandemic of 1846-63 

Note: John Snow died in 1858 while the third pandemic was still occurring.

This was the third of a series of cholera pandemics that began in India and spread over many countries. The outbreaks that led to this pandemic actually began much earlier -- in fact, just as the second pandemic was subsiding over Europe.  In 1837, there was a resurgence of cholera in the Lower Bengal region.  It gradually spread west, reaching Kabul in Afghanistan in 1839. Early in 1840, cholera once again erupted in Lower Bengal. Troops assembled here enroute to military duty in China transported the disease to Britain’s Straits Settlements and, in July 1840, to China, where cholera raged for two years. It then spread east to the Philippines and west along the trade routes from Canton to Burma and across Central Asia to Bukhara in 1844. One arm spread into Iran in 1845 and then as far north as Derbent on the Caspian Sea. Another arm penetrated Afghanistan, then east into the Punjab before branching out southwest to Karachi and southeast to Delhi.

Meanwhile, in 1845, cholera reappeared in Lower Bengal and spread rapidly south to Madras and Sri Lanka and west to Bombay. In May 1846, it was carried across shipping routes to Aden, Jedda, and much of the Arabian coast. It then entered Iraq and reinvaded Iran in the summer and Baghdad in September 1846, before progressing north along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. In November 1846, cholera struck Mecca, killing over 15,000 people in and around the city.

After a brief lull during the winter of 1846-47, cholera erupted again in April 1847 in Derbent, spread along the Caspian coast to Astrakhan and north along the Volga River. It also broke out in Thilisi in July, and continued west to the Black Sea and beyond (Constantinople was infected late in 1847) and northwest past the Caucasus range into the heart of Russia. The Orenburg (Chkalov) region was also breached (perhaps via the Ural River) as, apparently, was Tobolsk in Siberia. It reached Moscow in September 1847 and, when winter arrived, was nearing Olgopol and Riga in Latvia.

Early in 1848, cholera exploded all over Europe, extending from Norway in the north to England, Scotland, and IreIand in the northwest, to Spain in the southwest, and to the Balkan countries in the east. Muslim pilgrims returning to Egypt from Mecca in 1848 brought cholera with them. Its reappearance in Constantinople caused outbreaks in Syria, Palestine, and, possibly, Iran.

Cholera entered the United States through Staten Island (New York) and New Orleans. From New Orleans, it spread north along the Mississippi River and west into Texas. 

The spring of 1849 began with another round of cholera explosions. France and Italy were infected, as were Algeria and Tunisia in North Africa. England suffered a virulent onslaught; at its height, the epidemic claimed some 1,000 lives a day. In May 1849, cholera began spreading rapidly from foci in New York City and New Orleans until most of the United States east of the Rockles was affected. Canada, already struck by sea from Europe, was also attacked by cholera overland from the United States. Mexico was similarly attacked, and a ship carried the disease from New Orleans to Panama late in 1849.

In 1850, there was a severe cholera attack in Egypt and along coastal North Africa. Most of Europe, including areas affected in 1849, was once again infected. For the first time, Sweden and Denmark and the Maltese and lonian islands were affected. Mainland Greece remained untouched, as in 1837.

Also in 1850, cholera reached California overland and by sea (from Panama). In South America, Colombia and parts of Ecuador were infected. Cuba and Jamaica suffered severely in 1850 and 1851. From Cuba, cholera was transported to Grand Canary Island in May 1851, where it caused 9,000 human deaths in a very short period. Morocco was also plagued in 1851, but cholera was relatively quiescent in Europe except for outbreaks in Poland, Silesia, and Pomerania (German-Polish region on the Baltic). Cholera reemerged in Poland in 1852 and spread into the adjoining Russian provinces and Prussia.

Meanwhile, in 1848-49 cholera had renewed its onslaught in India and, after an outbreak in 1852, embarked on its traditional voyage to the west via Iran and Iraq. In 1853, northern Europe, the United States, Mexico, and the West Indies suffered outbreaks.

This phase of the pandemic represents a complicated mixture of local eruptions and fresh importations of the disease, and its course is not easily traceable. Cholera was fairly widespread in northern Europe in 1854; England, in particular, suffered acutely, but southern Europe was more severely affected. Troop movements from southern France (during the Crimean War) carried cholera to Greece and Turkey. Farther west, it raged through much of the United States, Canada, Mexico, Colombia, and many islands in the West Indies. Though a bad year for cholera, 1854 was also crucial; English physician John Snow’s experiments in London showed that contaminated water was an important factor in the spread of cholera.

In 1855, the onslaught continued with some new areas added to the list. Cholera spread from the Arabian Peninsula into Syria and Asia Minor (Turkey). Among the other countries affected were Egypt, Sudan, Morocco, the Cape Verde Islands, Italy, and the adjoining areas of Austria and Switzerland, as well as Venezuela and Brazil. 

Between 1856 and 1858, Spain and Portugal were the only European countries to be seriously affected; Central America and Guiana in northern South America were also hit.

In 1852, cholera spread east to Indonesia and later invaded China and Japan in 1854; it became a serious concern in the East in 1857-59. The Philippines were infected in 1858 and Korea a year later.

During this pandemic, the tiny island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean suffered four outbreaks; neighboring Reunion suffered one. In East Africa, the island of Zanzibar became an important focus of the disease. From here, cholera spread to Mozambique, Madagascar, the Comoro Islands, and Uganda. Ethiopia, first invaded by the disease in 1853, suffered serious outbreaks in 1855 and 1858.

Throughout the 1850s, cholera repeatedly flared up in India. In 1859, an outbreak in Bengal once again led to the transmission of the disease along the usual routes to Iran, Iraq, Arabia, and northwest into Russian territory. Outbreaks were simultaneously reported from Sweden, Denmark, western Prussia, the Netherlands, and Spain. Some ports in Morocco and Algeria were also infected via Spain in 1859. In the early 1860s, cholera was also reported from India, Japan, and Iran.