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Plague Time: How Stealth Infections Cause Cancer, Heart Disease, and Other Deadly Ailments [Hardcover]

Paul W. Ewald
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Nov. 14 2000

According to conventional wisdom, our genes and lifestyles are the most important causes of cancer, heart disease, and other killer ailments today. Conventional wisdom is wrong. In this bold, visionary book, biologist Paul W. Ewald argues that these serious illnesses are caused by a virtual plague of chronic infections. Acute infections give the sufferer symptoms almost immediately; the flu, cholera, even Ebola are all well-known and easy-to-identify examples of acute illnesses. Chronic infections, however, are stealthy predators that may not produce any symptoms for decades, and so remain almost undetectable, but eventually they ruin the sufferer's life. The netherworld of stealth infections is now opening before us. In Plague Time, Ewald puts forth an astonishing and profound argument that challenges our modern beliefs about disease: it is germs -- not genes -- that mold our lives and cause our deaths. Building on the recently recognized infectious origins of ulcers, miscarriages, and cancers, he draws together a startling collection of discoveries that now implicate infection in the most destructive chronic diseases of our time, such as heart disease, Alzheimer's, and schizophrenia. Acclaimed for years as one of the most important thinkers alive today on the genesis of disease, Ewald now explodes conventional medical thinking with a new comprehensive view of what germs do. Some people worry about dangerous germs "going global." In most cases it is already too late. The most dangerous germs among us have already been disseminated globally. Ewald explains how evolution in this worldwide environment makes some germs turn nasty while some become harmless. Most importantly, he shows how we can work together to master our modern infectious plagues by controlling disease evolution. He reveals that we live in an ecosystem of microbes, and we must understand them to avoid their deadly damage.

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From Publishers Weekly

Could breast cancer be caused, not by genes, but by a pathogen passed to humans from mice? Very possibly, according to Amherst College biology professor Ewald (Evolution of Infectious Disease) in this controversial page-turner that's certain to garner attention. In a cogent defense of our evolutionarily selected genes, Ewald proposes that the true culprits behind chronic ailments and even mental disorders are pathogens. He propels his argument by noting the "biases of human thought" that inhibited scientific growth in the 19th century (when the notion of microbes was first rejected) and those that are, he believes, stifling the research of infectious diseases today. For example, the infectious origin of peptic ulcers wasn't recognized until the mid-1980s, more than 30 years after physicians demonstrated the effectiveness of antibacterial agents in ulcer patients. The reason for this "scientific paralysis" lies in the prevalent misconception that most infectious diseases are like the common cold, acute yet ephemeral rather than chronic. Challenging this popular mindset, Ewald thoroughly examines the calculated attack strategies of a number of chronic, sexually transmitted diseases (such as herpes, syphilis and AIDS). In contrast to the complex task of determining disease origins, however, Ewald's solutions are surprisingly simple: clean water, safe sex, home care when you're ill, awareness of pathogen evolution and more funding. The world of infectious diseases, Ewald makes clear, continues to thriveAand anyone involved in the study or practice of medicine and any scientifically literate reader curious about the origins of disease will want to read this challenging work. Author tour. (Nov. 14)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

For many years stomach ulcers were thought to be the product of stress, acid, and spicy foods; now we know they are caused by bacteria. Amherst biology professor Ewald (Evolution of Infectious Diseases) suggests that many other chronic diseasesDincluding clogged arteries, diabetes, cancer, and schizophreniaDare at least partially caused by infectious agents, and here he presents research that bolsters his claims. Beyond this, he argues that studying how infectious agents evolve can lead to techniques for more effective control of killer diseases such as malaria and AIDS through decreasing their virulence. He also discusses some ethical issues related to treating diseases. An example is whether it is best to treat an individual with antibiotics when this may cause problems for a whole population if antibiotic resistance in bacteria is a result. Ewald's ideas are controversial but intriguing and have far-reaching implications. His clear, entertaining, and well-documented style makes the book appealing to a wide variety of readers. Highly recommended for all types of libraries.DMarit MacArthur Taylor, Auraria Lib., Denver
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Credibly incredible! Nov. 3 2003
By A Customer
Dr. Ewald makes some outstanding points and raises questions that should have been raised 50 years ago. The idea that all (or most) cancers are microbes is old news, however. There was a group of doctors during the 1920's that isolated the virus in a microscope and were able to destroy the microbe using a radio frequency. People with cancer were being cured because these doctors were destroying the microbes with their radio frequency machine. These doctors' findings and the invention of their microscope were common knowledge and their success against the cancer microbe was published. But the growing medical establishment prevented its treatment from becoming mainstream and eventually destroyed their work. I recommend reading "The Cancer Cure That Worked: 50 Years of Suppression" by Barry Lynes to learn the story.
The world needs more insightful doctors like Paul Ewald. I highly recommend this book to learn about how viruses and other pathogens are causing so many of our health problems!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Hard to read but worth the effort Nov. 8 2001
By Wings42
Plague Time provides important and fascinating information about diseases, how they are acquired, their evolution, and their consequences. Professor Ewald contends that many chronic diseases such as several types of cancer, arteriosclerosis, schizophrenia, several types of arthritis, bipolar disease, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, or even many symptoms of aging are the result of infections. The explanations of how these infections are acquired, and situations where the infectious agents are likely to be especially virulent are of great practical value.
Dr. Ewald's thesis is that infectious agents quickly evolve to maximize their reproductive success. Their virulence and the nature of the acute or chronic symptoms they cause are a function of how they are transmitted. The discussions of microbe evolution deepened my understanding of biology and evolution. There are many examples presented.
Many sections were unnecessarily wordy, with clumsy and overly long sentence constructions and much redundancy. This made parts of the book slow and heavy going. His frequent and often lengthy criticisms of the medical establishment are justified in my view, but sometimes got tiresome. In spite of the effort required, Plague Time is well worth reading.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful June 17 2001
This is a great read. Paul Ewald points out quite convincingly that medical professionals neglect the evolutionary side of disease. His theory is that most diseases including chronic diseases like some cancers and heart disease are caused by infections by micro-organisms. This is not to say that his theory is conclusively demonstrated but rather that it rests on principles that are sensible and possibly correct. Another of the important themes talked about in his book is that the virulancy of an infectious agent will evolve depending on how easily it is transmitted. An organism (bacteria or virus) in the human body is always trying to balance its fitness in reproducing in its host versus its fitness in being able to jump into another host. The outcome is decided by natural selection. Whatever evolutionary path results in the most offstring will win out. An organism which reproduces too quicky and imediately kills its host will not be very capable of being transmitted to another host. Take for example the common cold. If the effects of the common cold were much worse then people would stay home from work and the chance of the germs reaching other hosts would be much less. Ewald in fact advocates that people should stay home from work when they get a cold or the flu. This would probably benefit the employer in the long run because the flu would be less prevalent and less workers would contract it. I won't try to argue his points here but I find them quite convincing. On the other hand there are some down sides to the book. As mentioned in some other reviews the title is a bit overstated. Ewald has a theory and not conclusive evidence that things like cancer and heart disease are caused by infectious agents. Read more ›
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5.0 out of 5 stars The most important theory in medicine Feb. 19 2001
Not genes but germs cause most chronic diseases. So argues evolutionary biologist Paul Ewald in his new book, "Plague Time: How Stealth Infections Cause Cancers, Heart Disease, and Other Deadly Ailments," (Free Press, 282 pp, ...).
The Amherst professor is trying to drag the medical establishment into the Darwinian age. While modern research often aims to uncover genetic factors in major diseases, Ewald contends that "human genome mania" often violates the fundamental principle of biology, Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection. Darwin argued that families with harmful hereditary traits will die out over time, asserts Ewald, and would be replaced by lineages whose hereditary constitution better enables them to survive and reproduce.
Ultimate goals aside, Ewald has made sure that lay readers will find his book interesting and intelligible. He believes that patients are often more open-minded than their doctors.
In an interview, Ewald claimed that the health benefits of the Human Genome Project are over hyped because "most diseases aren't genetic." He said research funds dedicated to improve antibiotics would bring greater payoffs than those spent on the glamour field of genetic research.
Ewald, who is not a medical doctor, said, "My goal is to bring into medicine all of biology, especially evolution."
So far, he has had more success persuading other biologists than the medical establishment. The late William D. Hamilton of Oxford University, England -- considered by the likes of Edward O.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Plague time
Excellent book- stirs up controversy on chronic illnesses and thier possible viral et.al. causes. A must read.Dr. Ewald's ideas need a wide readership. Read more
Published on July 1 2001 by Leslie M. Lothstein
5.0 out of 5 stars A very important book
Ewald sets out to show that medicine has made so little progress over the past 50 years in tackling chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer because it has been looking in... Read more
Published on May 15 2001 by Jon
5.0 out of 5 stars Read the review below
The gentleman below has written a sterling review. I couldn't say it better. I'm only here to point out that many of the items I review feature poignant insights which often are... Read more
Published on April 16 2001 by David Kleist
3.0 out of 5 stars Would have made a nice essay
Actually, that's pretty much all this book is. There was a cover article in "Atlantic Monthly" a few years back that contained all the important ideas in this book and... Read more
Published on Feb. 13 2001 by Douglas Turnbull
2.0 out of 5 stars Provocative Ideas -- Speculative Execution Thus Far
I was initially very excited to read this book; and it does identify some serious problems with current perspectives on the origins of disease. Read more
Published on Feb. 5 2001 by Nichomachus
5.0 out of 5 stars "We are their food."
Ewald's startling thesis is that "infection is at the root of the major chronic diseases of our time" (p. 271). Read more
Published on Jan. 29 2001 by Dennis Littrell
3.0 out of 5 stars Not well-supported
Ewald's book is a reflection of many sensationalist tomes we've seen over the past 5 years about disease. Read more
Published on Jan. 7 2001 by Richard M. Anderson
5.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing Ideas Make For Worthwhile Reading
About halfway through Plague Time, the author notes the reaction of the evolutionary biologist William D. Hamilton to the theory that AIDS was caused by a contaminated vaccine. Read more
Published on Dec 26 2000 by Michael Lima
3.0 out of 5 stars Not an Appropiate title
The title of this book should be 'How stealth infections combined with many other factors MAY cause cancers etc'. Read more
Published on Nov. 7 2000 by Gino and Marsha Salerno
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