History in Review
Seven Modern Plagues: and How We Are Causing Them
By Mark Jerome Walters
Island Press, 2014
Reviewed by Angela Evans - January 29, 2016
Do humans cause diseases, or are we just the victims of pathogens that are beyond our control? In Seven Modern Plagues: and How We Are Causing Them, author Mark Jerome Walters argues that humans are fully responsible for many of the modern diseases that currently afflict humankind, such as mad cow disease (Bovine spongiform encephalopathy) which was caused by the feeding of animal remains to other animals. He also contends that we are at least partially responsible for the development and spread of many other diseases ranging from HIV/AIDS and Salmonella DT104 (an antibiotic-resistance form of Salmonella) to Lyme disease (Lyme borreliosis) and West Nile virus (WNV). A veterinarian, and investigative journalist, Walters provides a compelling case that humans are the cause of many of our own ills, and he provides a case by case examination of seven diseases that he believes were partially or fully caused by human interventions. They include the five diseases mentioned above, along with hantavirus and novel flu strains. Over the course of this study, Walters not only looks at how these diseases evolved, but also on how human actions might cause these diseases to reach pandemic proportions. (Pandemics are basically large scale epidemics that spread across international boundaries, and they can, as in the case of Spanish Flu, spread over the entire globe.)
The purpose of this study is not simply to be alarmist. Rather it is, I believe, intended to be a wake up call to average citizens and public health and political officials. A wake up call to alert them to the dangers that we face so that steps can be taken now to head off future epidemics and pandemics, before they take hold. To this end, he offers insights from past outbreaks that might be useful in preventing or at least limiting future outbreaks of various diseases.
Seven Modern Plagues was written for a general audience, and you do not need a scientific background to follow the narrative. Throughout he has included the personal stories of people affected by these seven diseases, and he provides insights into how other cultures have dealt with these or similar diseases in the past. For those that wish to delve into this topic in greater detail, you will find Walters detailed endnotes to be of particular interest. This book was originally published in 2003, and this newer, second edition came out in 2014. The second edition of this book contains seven diseases (unlike the six in the first edition), and has been updated to included current research and scientific advances that have occurred since 2003. All in all, a fascinating book that will enthrall anyone with an interest in plagues, diseases, or are just wondering about what the future might hold for the human race...
How the Cows Turned Mad, by Maxime Schwartz.
An intriguing history of the medical detective work that has gone into identifying and studying spongiform encephalopathies, including Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, otherwise known as Mad Cow disease.
Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA, by Maryn McKenna.
Lurking in our homes, hospitals, schools, and farms is a terrifying pathogen that is evolving faster than the medical community can track it or drug developers can create antibiotics to quell it. That pathogen is MRSA—methicillin-resistant Staphyloccocus aureus — and this book tells the story of its shocking spread and the alarming danger it poses to us all.
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