Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/667

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THE PILGRIM PATH OF CHOLERA.

To the pilgrims themselves the festival turned out a disastrous affair, but later investigation showed that in many villages to which they returned the residents also were affected, and that in at least three districts widespread epidemics were set up.

Such is a pilgrimage within the "endemic area" where perhaps it may be said that the danger in regard to cholera may be measured by the deaths, the dissemination of the infection through a population already charged with it not being of great importance.

But any Indian pilgrimage, even in a non-endemic area, has much the same characteristics. Dr. Simpson's description of the great Kumbh festival, which occurs once in twelve years at Hurdwar, outside the endemic area, is also very graphic, and the photographs (Figs. 2, 3, and 4) show the sacred pool and the approaches to it to be hidden by a mass of semi-naked human beings. The pollutions to which the sacred pool is exposed on these occasions are indescribable. There are not only the washing of the sacred fakirs, who cover themselves with wood ashes as their only clothing, and the general bathing of the pilgrims, who are not all in the cleanest of clothes—several, moreover, on the occasion in question being seen bathing with skin diseases upon them—but the ashes of deceased relatives brought from the different homes of the pilgrims, and the hair of widows who have been shorn, are also thrown into the water. The stream, usually so bright and pure, soon became a muddy one, offensive to the senses, and, although outside the endemic area, bacteriological examination of this defiled water showed it to contain the comma bacillus, which is looked upon as the true contagium of cholera.

With these pictures in our minds of what an Eastern pilgrimage means, and of what is done at the great festivals, whether of Hinduism or Mohammedanism, can we wonder that they are so constantly the means of lifting cholera out of its ordinary endemic character and spreading it over the world at large? In old times when cholera marched overland its route could almost be dotted out by the fairs which it infected. Now, with more rapid means of communication, Mecca, with of course Jiddah its port, is the half-way house, the halting place, the one spot at which it must be caught and stopped if Europe is to be protected. Hither tend pilgrims from all parts, including those from the infected area; here are performed rites which involve of necessity the wide spread of the infection among the visitors, if even perchance but one of them bring with him the disease; hence in a fortnight's time is scattered this great host, carrying with them the germs of pestilence to their homes in distant lands. Mecca is a peril to Europe, and at all cost Mecca must be made a sanitary area, in which cholera if it should arrive can play itself out, and from