During the outbreak of the second cholera pandemic in Europe, doctors began to take an interest in the disease, giving rise to a vast scientific production. The Italian medical class too was involved in this heuristic and hermeneutic activity, producing an impressive number of publications. Amid this literature, a sample of 100 monographs published between 1831 and 1842 was investigated in this study. The analysis focuses on etiopathogenetic and therapeutic aspects. With regard to the first feature, the origin of cholera was generally explained in two ways: either by attributing the onset of the disease to the inhalation of miasmas, or by hypothesising the existence of live pathogens transmitted from a sick person to a healthy one by direct contagion. Regarding the therapeutic aspects, practically the entire Italian medical class considered cholera to be a poison affecting the digestive system. In light of this, the most characteristic symptoms of the disease (vomiting and diarrhea) were interpreted as an attempt by the organism to spontaneously rid itself of the miasmic poison. Therefore, the main task of medicine was to facilitate the natural expulsion of this poison. The drugs most frequently suggested by doctors were therefore purgatives, emetics, diaphoretics and diuretics. As for the effects of these treatments, given that the physio-pathological essence of cholera (which is clear today but was completely unknown at the time) consists in profound dehydration, it is evident that they were all extremely harmful, so much so as to worsen considerably the lethality rates.
Tanturri, A., Il colera nel pensiero medico italiano del primo Ottocento: aspetti eziopatogenici, tassonomici e terapeutici, in Bearzot, C., Sannazaro, M. (ed.), Epidemie e cambiamenti. Comportamenti, ideologie, aspetti religiosi, Vita e Pensiero, Milano 2023: 195- 218 [https://hdl.handle.net/10807/259218]