© Cor Snabel
Leprosy was a very contagious disease brought along from the Middle East by the crusader in the 12th and 13th century.
Charity had founded a leper's house outside the city walls. After the disease was diagnosed the leper received a "vuilbrief"; literal translated "dirty letter" and a rattle. Every Wednesday they were allowed into town to beg for alms, but they had to wear a large black coat, a big hat with a white ribbon and they had to use the rattle constantly.
It wasn't till the end of the 19th century, that this disease was banished from the Netherlands.
The plague was seen as the justified anger of God against mankind to punish them for their sinful way of life. God made little flying dragons and snakes pollute the air and if you inhaled this air, big black swellings would cover your body. High fevers, hallucinations, rage and throwing up blood was followed by death. If one case was discovered, panic was all over town, special services in church were performed to propitiate the Almighty.
In 1623 a flock of strange birds was spotted over the city and immediately the plague broke out, lasted three years and killed 16.000 Amsterdammers, one sixth of the population. In order to isolate this disease, the houses were marked with a "P" and all doors and windows had to stay closed in order to keep the polluted air inside.
But the rats and fleas were not held back by closed windows and contamination was everywhere, despite the fact, that relatives and housemates of the sick were only allowed in public places carrying a white stick, so if you spotted them, you could run. The plague epidemic of 1655 changed Amsterdam in one big house of mourning, 16.727 casualties of which 13.508 in six months. Entire families died that year.
In every epidemic thousand were killed; the last was in 1664 and made 24.148 casualties, on a population of 200.000.
On 31st June 1832 skipper Runhard felt sick, had severe cramps and diarrhea, went to bed and died a few hours later. Professor Dr. Vrolik saw the pale, yellow corps with the blue marks around the eyes, the red and purple thighs and greenish belly and knew he was looking at a cholera corps. Runhard being a sailor, the professor thought it was an isolated case, but on the 7th August Naatje Bakkum died under the same circumstances. From there it only got worse and the epidemic spread around town. The City Council advised people to wear flannel shirts and woolen socks, not to walk around with wet feet and not to eat unripe fruit. If somebody got sick he or she had to put mustard and vinegar on their breast till the doctor arrived. But even the physicians did not know what to do, only fifty years later Robert Koch discovered the link between polluted water and cholera.