Books for Living
Nature has its own lethal armory in the form of plagues exploding into epidemics that spread over global areas as pandemics. In this very short introduction to diseases that have ravaged populations, University of Virginia History Professor Christian McMillen chronicles the background of seven feared infections, starting with the historic Plague and continuing on to the dreaded Smallpox, Cholera, Malaria, Tuberculosis, Influenza, and finally HIV/AIDS. Some of these outbreaks are periodic such as the flu, while others like malaria and HIV persist over time. With the advance of medical science some diseases have come under control with vaccines, medications, sanitation, and education. This short but comprehensive study of pandemics reviews the economic, social, and political factors that operate when the disease strikes and the precautions adopted to limit contagion and reccurrence. Poverty, dense populations, cultural beliefs, and increased mobility of the population enable the human vector to transmit the infective organism. The history of past and present pandemics is impressively described, and the author cautions that this history should serve as a lesson for possible future incidents that may arise, especially as crowding and mobility increase. The reader might reflect on the Zika and Ebola viruses and the unpredictable mutagenic strains of the influenza bug along with other potential threats.