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Plagues & Poxes

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Plagues & Poxes
The Impact of Human History on Epidemic Disease
By Alfred Jay Bollet, M.D.
Demos Medical Publishing, NY: 2004
ISBN: 1-888799-79-X

Reviewed by Anna Dogole - February 13, 2013

Despite countless medical and technical advances, epidemic disease still threatens mankind. For each disease that is conquered, a new disease emerges to take its place. Where once smallpox and bubonic plague were familiar specters in everyone's life, now it is AIDS, bioweapons, and the potential of an avian influenza pandemic that haunts the nightmares of those charged with protecting the public's health. In Plagues & Poxes: The Impact of Human History on Epidemic Disease Dr. Alfred Jay Bollet charts the role that human action has played in major disease outbreaks throughout history.

Most books that examine the history of epidemic diseases take a different tack. They primarily look at how epidemic diseases have impacted history. By examining epidemic diseases in the reverse, i.e., man's impact on the epidemics, Bollet offers a glimpse into the role that humans have played in the spread, and at times, in actually causing the epidemics that have tormented humans throughout their history.

Diseases covered in this edifying volume include Malaria, Bubonic Plague, Yellow Fever, Syphilis, Small Pox, Cholera, Poliomyelitis, and Influenza. In addition to these infectious diseases, Bollet also examines several noninfectious diseases that are related to nutrition, namely Beriberi, Pellagra, Scurvy, Rickets, and Gout. In relation to these noninfectious diseases, Bollet describes how changes in diet, wrought by technology and other human induced factors actually created these diseases. He also looks at three new threats, the intentional spread of Anthrax and Botulism, and the emergences of SARS. In regards to anthrax and botulism, Bollet looks at both the historical incidences of the two diseases, and how they have been developed and used as bioweapons, by both 'legal' governments and terrorists.

In each chapter of this book, Bollet describes the disease under study, how it is spread, its potential use as a bioweapon, and the impact that humans have had on the occurrence, spread, and control of epidemic diseases. For example, he looks at how commercial travel has greatly increased the spread at which epidemic diseases can travel, the role that military conflicts have had in the occurrence of major epidemics, and how the alterations in how food is produced and consumed has lead to several dietary related diseases. Bollet also describes how the cause of each disease was discovered and the various treatments used to combat it throughout history. At the end of each chapter you will also find a list of additional readings that are invaluable to anyone interested in pursing the study of any of these diseases in greater detail.

Plagues & Poxes is essential reading for anyone with an interest in the history of epidemic diseases and the role that humans have played in the occurrence of major disease outbreaks. The text is eminently readable and is accessible to both scholars and general readers alike. Erudite and engaging, this volume will make an excellent addition to both public and private libraries.

Related Reviews:

Twelve Diseases That Changed Our World, by Irwin W. Sherman.
Discover how twelve diseases, namely porphyria, hemophilia, the Irish potato blight, cholera, smallpox, bubonic plague, syphilis, tuberculosis, malaria, yellow fever, the great influenza pandemic, and AIDS, changed the world and the very real threat they still pose for the future.

Deadly Companions: How Microbes Shaped Our History, by Dorothy H. Crawford.
Written for the general reader, this book looks at both ancient and modern epidemics and how diseases develop and spread. It provides a general introduction to the role that microbes, and the diseases they often engender, have impacted human development and history.

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