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Twelve Diseases That Changed Our World


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Table of Contents 1. The Legacy of Disease: Porphyria and Hemophilia 2. The Irish Potato Blight 3. Cholera 4. Smallpox: the Speckled Monster 5. Bubonic Plague 6. Syphilis: the Great Pox 7. Tuberculosis: the People's Plague 8. Malaria 9. Yellow Fever: the Saffron Scourge 10. The Great Influenza 11. AIDS: the 21st Century Plague Epilogue

About the Author

Author: Irwin W. Sherman, The Scripps Research Institute, USA


REVIEW 1 At A Glance Diseases have significantly shaped the course of the world's history. From the fourteenth-century plague to HIV/AIDS today, diseases have fundamentally altered the shape of society, politics, and culture. In a sweeping, thoughtful account, "Twelve Diseases That Changed Our World" considers the history of twelve important diseases: their impact, their consequences, their costs, and the lessons learned. Examining hemophilia, blight, tuberculosis, cholera, smallpox, bubonic plague, influenza, malaria, yellow fever, and syphilis, this book not only covers the diseases' histories but also addresses public health responses and societal upheavals. Historical perspectives on these diseases will be indispensable for a better understanding of how we and our forbearers survived the onslaught of "plagues" and how we might avoid their devastating consequences in the future. Crucial to this examination is exploring how past experiences can help us to deal effectively with "coming plagues." Whether attempts to control outbreak successful or not, lessons can be learned that are crucial for disease containment today. Most significantly, this book explains the lessons learned from attempts to contain past disease outbreaks and how that knowledge can be utilized in the future. Despite the challenge that a major epidemic presents, "Twelve Diseases That Changed Our World" also details various past successes in which diseases were brought under control and social disorder was minimized. Description This book examines 12 important diseases from a historical perspective. Each chapter provides a description of the disease, its origins, symptoms, how it is acquired, treatment, control measures, and its consequences. In these sections the author examines the impact of disease on humans, from social perceptions and stigmatization of those afflicted to changes in populations due to emigration and immigration. The discussions center on periods when each disease was at its height, as measured by either the greatest number of people affected (the plague), political upheaval (porphyria and hemophilia), or great changes in demographics (late blight of potato). The author also offers insights about the consequences of each disease addressing areas of lessons learned, current status, and chances for future outbreaks. Purpose The purpose is to present a historical account of disease and its impact on society. The book examines the nature of disease and the human response in terms of attempts to control its spread and limit its consequences. By focusing on the past, the author sets the framework for discussions on lessons learned so we may better understand how we may respond to future outbreaks. Audience The book is intended for general readers who have an interest in history and biology, biology students, and teachers who wish to include more information on the history and impact of disease in their courses. It should also be useful in microbiology courses as a supplemental reader as 10 of 12 diseases covered are microbial pathogens. The author, professor emeritus at the University of California, Riverside, has published numerous scholarly papers and four books in this area. Features Most of the diseases are caused by microbial pathogens, but two are genetic disorders (porphyria and hemophilia). Historical accounts of bacterial disease include cholera, the plague, syphilis, and tuberculosis. The impact of viral epidemics is illustrated by smallpox, yellow fever, the 1918 influenza pandemic, and HIV. The impact of disease on a population dependent upon subsistence farming is illustrated by the Irish potato blight, in which the causative agent was a water mold. Interestingly, this is also the only disease included that is not a human pathogen, but its effects were to drastically change the demographics of the United States in the mid-19th century. The story of the devastating effects of the protozoan parasite which causes malaria is also told along with the efforts to control it and it's impact on Africa. The book is well-written, but does not contain any figures or tables, data presentation, or any illustrations. Assessment The book is easy to read and enjoyable. However, it tends to repeat information from the author's previous book, The Power of Plagues (ASM Press, 2006). Many of the diseases discussed in that book (the plague, malaria, cholera, and syphilis, tuberculosis, and smallpox) appear here and in familiar format. There is extensive overlap in the author's general discussion of epidemiology or spread of disease in populations and the sections on the basic reproductive ratio of the disease (the disease multiplier, Ro), as well as explanations of how each disease is transmitted. However, in this book, the author focuses more on the changes and the impact of disease upon society, making it a nice complement to the previous work and a good read for those interested in the whole story behind some of the world's most tumultuous times. -Erick Snellman, PhD (The Citadel) REVIEW 2 "Coronavirus And The Twelve Diseases That Changed Our World By Alex Berezow, PhD -- July 29, 2020 "Twelve Diseases That Changed Our World" was originally published in 2007 but has taken on renewed relevance during the COVID-19 pandemic. Will the coronavirus similarly change our world? We review the book authored by Prof. Irwin Sherman. Modern society is far removed from the reality of death. That was not the case for the vast majority of human history, when parents would produce multiple offspring in the hope that a few might survive to adulthood. Well into the 20th century, infectious diseases cut lives tragically short, often in gruesome ways, radically transforming the course of human history in ways that are underappreciated in textbooks. This is the focus of a book written by emeritus biology professor Irwin Sherman called Twelve Diseases That Changed Our World, which was originally published in 2007 but has taken on renewed relevance during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sherman masterfully interweaves explanations of the biology and epidemiology of the diseases with accounts, taken from historians or eyewitnesses, that are nauseatingly descriptive. For instance, a passage describes yellow fever, a viral infection transmitted by mosquitoes, thus: "Slowly, the patient's skin turned yellow and patches of the inside of his mouth began to ooze blood." A pan was kept by the bedside to "catch the black vomit, a mixture of blood and digestive juices." Fevers could spike as high as 105 degrees Fahrenheit. This horrifying disease greatly influenced the geopolitics of the Western Hemisphere on at least two occasions. On the first, it scuttled Napoleon Bonaparte's plan for a North American empire after the virus felled perhaps 50,000 French troops in Haiti who were deployed to put down a slave rebellion. Because an invasion of the continent was contingent on an established presence in Haiti, Napoleon gave up and sold Louisiana to the United States. On the second occasion, France again was victimized by the virus. Unable to complete the Panama Canal after about 22,000 workers died, mainly from yellow fever, the French sold everything to the United States. Colombia opposed the deal, but the Panamanians did not, so the U.S. and France encouraged the Panamanians to revolt. Panama declared independence, and the U.S. signed a treaty with Panama instead of Colombia. Other infectious diseases that have left an indelible mark on history include cholera, which led to the development of national public health systems and to organizations like the International Committee of the Red Cross, and malaria, which protected Rome from foreign invaders and played a role in major wars throughout world history. Many infectious diseases were blamed on foreigners. The French and Italians blamed each other for syphilis, the Russians blamed the Poles, the Japanese blamed the Chinese, and the English blamed the Spanish. Americans blamed Jews for tuberculosis. Of the 12 diseases Sherman discusses, two are genetic: hemophilia and porphyria. Both affect the blood, and both caused problems for monarchies across Europe. Porphyria, for example, may have been responsible for the "madness" of King George III. Though it probably didn't cause him to lose the American colonies, it likely played a role in the (Protestant) king's oppression of Irish Catholics, and a mutual animosity exists between them to this day. Intriguingly, toward the end of the book, Sherman predicts a major pandemic and describes the fallout: "[I]t will seriously impact our lives: hospital facilities will be overwhelmed because medical personnel will also become sick ... reserves of vaccines and drugs will soon be depleted, leaving most people vulnerable to infection. There will be social and economic disruptions." Prophetic, yes. But he was speaking of influenza, not of COVID-19. Correct prognosis, wrong virus. (c) 2020 Geopolitical Futures. Republished with permission. https: //www.acsh.org/news/2020/07/29/coronavirus-and-twelve-diseases-changed-our-world-14941" - American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) (NO INDIVIDUAL REVIEWER NOTED)

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