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Six Modern Plagues and How We Are Causing Them [Hardcover]

Mark Jerome Walters
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 10 2003 155963992X 978-1559639927 1
In Six Modern Plagues, Mark Jerome Walters elucidates the surprising connections between human-induced changes to the natural environment and recent epidemics, including West Nile virus, mad cow disease, HIV/AIDS. Lyme disease, and SARS. According to Walters, we are not only victims of these emerging diseases; we are helping exacerhate their creation and spread. Only if we learn to recognize our role in these outbreaks, or, "eco-demics," can we take measures to diffuse their power. For the new paperback edition, Walters has updated information on the recent bird flu epidemic.

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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.

From Booklist

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

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
Format:Hardcover
This book is disappointing. Walters offers little scientific or intellectual insight, or constructive advice for addressing some genuine human concerns. If you want to learn something about disease incidence and history, skip this book and buy Andrew Speilman's Mosquito, which is excellent!
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.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Quick introduction into recent headline plagues. March 25 2004
Format:Hardcover
An engaging primer on six emerging diseases that have tormented the world recently: (1) Mad Cow Disease, (2) HIV/AIDS, (3) Salmonella DT104, (4) Lyme Disease, (5) Nile Virus, and (6) SARS. Walters' premise is that we have radically changed the environment and thus we are reaping the results of our own actions via plagues. Trained as a veterinarian, Walters sees all of the above plagues as the interactions between animals and our disruption of the environment. He states, "Intensive modern agriculture, clear-cutting of forests, global climate changes, decimation of many predators that once kept disease-carrying smaller animals in check, and other environmental changes have all contributed to the increase [of epidemics]." He also mentions how the increase of global travel has contributed to the spread diseases (i.e. SARS and HIV/AIDS).
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.
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4.0 out of 5 stars An eloquent warning Jan. 23 2004
Format:Hardcover
"What threads we silently break; what voices we still. By what grace, I wondered, have we been kept so well by what we have abused for so long." (p. 95)
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.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Make sure you know what you're getting March 13 2004
Format:Hardcover
Be warned....this book has little to do with modern plagues and more to do with a left-wing environmentalist agenda. Even worse, Mark Walters has trouble deciding how to write his book, switching back and forth between semi-scientific writing and silly poetic descriptions. In the end, though, he doesn't present the reader with anything new. All of this information should be fairly common knowledge to anyone who reads a newspaper as often as once a week.
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