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Six Modern Plagues and How We Are Causing Them Hardcover – Sep 10 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
The SARS outbreak earlier this year was a classic illustration of how disease can spread around the world via intercontinental travelers and how diseases can jump from animals to humans. Walters, a veterinarian and Harvard Medical School visiting lecturer, describes how human actions affecting the environment and the animals that live in it have exacerbated the spread of six diseases that have jumped in similar fashion to our species from their original hosts, creating serious new threats to public health. He begins with perhaps the most frightening one of all, mad cow disease, which attacks victims' brains. Many scientists believe the biological agent that causes the disease spread from scrapie-infected sheep to cows when sheep by-products were put in high-protein livestock feed. A virulent new strain of salmonella, DT104, has been created in part through the food industry's feeding antibiotics to chickens and livestock. Walters also explains that as hunters and laborers in central Africa continue to eat bush meat, new diseases will almost surely emerge from out of the jungles, as HIV did. The author also looks at hantavirus, its outbreaks thus far restricted to parts of the Southwest; Lyme disease, spread by deer ticks that live on and are spread by mice; and the mosquito-borne West Nile virus, which made its way to America from the eastern Mediterranean a few years ago. Walters presents a compelling case that the "deep ecological, demographic, and industrial roots" of these diseases must be considered if we are to minimize the danger of future emerging diseases.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
In sharp, readable accounts of six recent "plagues," Walters points at the 1,000-pound gorilla customarily ignored in modern epidemiological discussions: underlying ecological causes. Those include industrial agriculture, with its pursuit of money rather than wholesome food; industrial forestry, with its pursuit of money rather than biosystem integrity; and industrial pharmacology, with its pursuit of money rather than human, animal, and plant health. Meat animals were made cannibals to increase output, and mad cow disease erupted. African forests were virtually strip-mined; bush-meat (wild animals) became essential to feeding work gangs and then hoards of displaced forest dwellers; and HIV/AIDS exploded (in North America, forest liquidation is also behind Lyme disease). Crops and livestock were massively injected with antibiotics to increase yields, and an antibiotic-resistant strain of salmonella flared up to kill animals and humans with astonishing speed. Walters also traces the lines of connection and causation back from epidemic outbreaks of West Nile virus and the hantavirus to the ecological depredations of modern industry. He never rants, he is always calm, and he is scarily cogent. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top Customer Reviews
Emergence of new diseases and the reemergence of old ones is indeed a real concern, but Walters's politically correct philosophy prevents him from offering any real useful advice. Instead, the book amounts to little more than a well-written rant about the horrors of modern society and technology. Walters's view is basically that mankind's disruption of nature is causing "ecodemics"-disease outbreaks caused mankind's tampering with nature by doing such things as building homes (or sprawl as he calls it), entering the forests, and world travel.
It is true that human actions do spread disease. But that is hardly a revelation since many diseases spread by human contact or by traveling vectors like mosquitoes. World travel throughout the ages has spread diseases across continents and Western nations are now seeing the emergence of new diseases and the reemergence of old ones. Clearly, we do have a need for disease-control efforts, and we should learn from the past, which Walters might say is his point. But that's not where his argument leads.
Walters says we must address these causes by "protecting and restoring ecological wholeness upon which our health depends." The implication is that there should be fewer people, living in smaller, more isolated communities. But Walters's cure is more imaginary than achievable. How are we going to drastically reduce population and return to isolationist societies? It just isn't going to happen, and it wouldn't be a good thing.Read more ›
The book is a short, (156 pages) quick read, and best suited for those outside of the medical community who want to know more about any, or all, of these plagues. If you have a good grasp of epidemiology, and are well-read, you will probably find the subject matter remedial. Also, Walters' treatment of the six plagues is uneven. His last chapter on SARS is a quick gloss over and disappointing in comparison to his more captivating treatment of the preceding five plagues. Recommended 3.5 stars.
This expression by science writer and journalism professor Mark Jerome Walters was inspired by a walk in an old growth forest, and is in reference to the planet's ecology. It is indicative of his reflective and eloquent style.
It was thought not so many years ago that we had infectious diseases nearly under control and it would be only a matter of (short) time before they were eliminated as important causes of human morbidity. How naive such a pronouncement seems today!
The six modern "plagues" that Walters writes about are mad cow disease, HIV/AIDS, antibiotic-resistant salmonella, Lyme disease, the four-corners hantavirus, and West Nile virus. There is an Epilogue in which he discusses SARS and mentions avian flu, which is making headline news today as I write this. Walters's argument in each of these cases is that these diseases have come to prominence because of something we humans have done.
In the case of mad cow disease we have been mixing remnants from slaughtered cows and sheep in with their feed, including brain and nervous tissue parts that contain the prions responsible for the disease.
In the case of HIV/AIDS we have been clearing forests in the African jungles, and to feed the loggers have increased the traffic in bushmeat resulting in a commingling of humans and wild simians providing an opportunity for the virus to jump from apes to people.
In the case of Salmonella typhimurium DT104, it is our feeding antibiotics to farm animals that has allowed the antibiotic-resistant strain to develop.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
What are the human stories behind the latest epidemics, and how are they closely related to human changes to the environment? Read morePublished on May 6 2004 by Midwest Book Review
drawing me in with a tantalizing title and promise of much explanations, i am left perplexed.
the author makes tenuous links between this and that, throws around a lot of... Read more
After reading this book no one will be able to make the argument that environmentalists are tree hugging crazies. This book deserves to be read widely.Published on Feb. 18 2004 by C. Dye
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