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Thursday, January 8, 2015

GAMES: "You have died of cholera," and other health lessons #OregonTrail teaches us

You have died of cholera. Ah, the memories.

Adults who grew up with Apple IIs in the classroom in the 1990s are having a nostalgia field day now that the Internet Archive has made more than 2,000 MS DOS games available online, including the memorable Oregon Trail.

What makes it relevant to a Sewer District blog (and you, fine reader) is a look at the diseases that plagued the pioneers: Cholera, dysentery, and typhoid fever, among others. You might not have realized it as a child, but the first three are caused by a lack of proper sanitation and still relevant today.

The Public Health LabLog has a great post from its archives about the diseases and their effects, but here are the highlights:
  • Cholera is a diarrheal illness caused by a toxic bacteria, usually transmitted in food or water contaminated with infected feces. A cholera outbreak hit Cleveland in 1832.
  • Dysentery is similar to cholera in its symptoms and transmission.
  • Typhoid fever is contracted through infected food and drink and those infected shed the bacteria in their stool and urine for days and weeks after the infection. Our archive uncovered a graph of typhoid fever cases near Sandusky, Ohio in the early 1900s (seen below) with a huge spike in 1908.

RELATED STORIES: 5 water games you can play on your phone

Wastewater treatment and proper sanitation have made these diseases rare in the developed world but they have not been eradicated by any means:

Cholera is still considered a global pandemic.

Dysentery in many strains is resistant to antibiotics.

Typhoid fever still affects more than 5,000 Americans per year, primarily those who travel abroad.

RELATED STORIES: What were toilets like in 1776?

Sewer districts and wastewater treatment agencies play a critical role in water quality and infrastructure that keep these diseases at bay.

So next time you saddle up with your 8-bit Conestoga wagon stocked with supplies, remember the clean-water systems that protect your family today.

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