Viruses, Plagues and History

Viruses, Plagues and History

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The story of viruses and the story of humanity have been intertwined since the dawn of history. The first small cities formed not only the cradle of civilization, but the spawning ground for the earliest viral epidemics, the first opportunity for viruses to find a home in the human herd. This is a story of fear and ignorance, as everything from demons and the wrath of the gods to minority groups have been blamed for epidemics from smallpox to yellow fever to AIDS. It is a story of grief and heartbreak, as hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, are wiped out in a single year. And it is a story of great bravery and sacrifice, as doctors and nurses put themselves in harm's way to combat yellow fever in Memphis and Ebola in Zaire, and as researchers risk their own lives to test theories of vaccines and the transmission of disease. Now, in Viruses, Plagues, and History, Michael B. A. Oldstone tells all these stories as he illuminates the history of the devastating diseases that have tormented humanity. Oldstone focuses his tale on a few of the most famous viruses humanity has battled, beginning with some we have effectively defeated, such as smallpox, polio, and measles. Nearly 300 million people were killed by smallpox in this century alone -- more than were killed in all the wars of the twentieth century combined. The author presents a vivid account of the long campaign against the virus, the insightful work of Edward Jenner, who created the smallpox vaccine from cowpox virus in 1796, and the monumental efforts of D. A. Henderson and an army of W.H.O. health care workers to finally eradicate smallpox. The smallpox virus remains the only organism that we have deliberately pushed to complete extinction in the wild. Oldstone then describes the fascinating viruses that have captured headlines in more recent years: Ebola and other hemorrhagic fevers, which literally turn their victims' organs to a bloody pulp; the Hantavirus outbreaks in the southwestern United States and elsewhere; mad cow disease, a frightening illness made worse by government mishandling and secrecy; and, of course, AIDS, often called "the plague of our time." And he tells us of the many scientists watching and waiting even now for the next great plague, monitoring influenza strains to see whether the deadly variant from 1918 -- a viral strain that killed over 20 million people in 1918-1919, more than twice the military and civilian casualties of the First World War -- will make a comeback. Viruses have enormous power. They have wiped out cities, brought down dynasties, and helped destroy civilizations. But, as Michael Oldstone reveals, scientific research has given us the power to tame many of these viruses as well. Viruses, Plagues, and History shows us the panorama of humanity's long-standing conflict with our unseen viral enemies, from our successes to our continuing struggles. Oldstone's book is a vivid history of a fascinating field, and a highly reliable dispatch from a worker on the frontiers of this ongoing more

Product details

  • Hardback | 224 pages
  • 161 x 242.8 x 22.4mm | 494.67g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 42 halftones, 22 line drawings, bibliography
  • 0195117239
  • 9780195117233

Table of contents

Preface; 1. Viruses and History: A General Introduction; 2. Intro. to the Principles of Virology; 3. Intro. to the Principles of Immunology; Success Stories; 4. Smallpox; 5. Yellow Fever; 6. Measles Virus; 7. Poliomyelitis; Present and Future Challenges; 8. An Overview of Newly Emerging Viral Plagues: The Hemorrhagic Fevers; 9. Lassa Fever; 10. Ebola; 11. Hantavirus; 12. Human immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) Infection - "AIDS, The Current Plague"; 13. Mad Cow Disease and Englishmen: Spongiform Encephalopathies (Prion Disease), A Questionable Virus and a Possible Coming Plague; 14. Influenza Virus, The Plague that may Return; 15. Conclusions and Future Predictionsshow more

Review Text

Familiar but compelling, the story of mankind's undoing by epidemic infectious diseases never fails to fascinate and appall. This retelling, by Scripps Research Institute virologist Oldstone, is less passionate than Laurie Garrett's The Coming Plague, being more or less a prosaic, factual account of viral plagues in recorded history. Oldstone provides background chapters on the nature of viruses and the ways the body's immune system combats them, then launches into a detailed description of the plagues themselves. He devotes a fair amount of space to smallpox, following its depredations from ancient Greece all the way up to the work of the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. Modern strategies have led to the total eradication of smallpox - a major success, given that the disease killed 300 million people in the 20th century. Other success stories cited by Oldstone include the trealment of yellow fever, measles, and polio, although the lack of immunization programs still racks up enormous tolls. The World Health Organization estimates that in the 1980s and early '90s as many as 2.5 million children died of measles annually. The second half of the book deals with such unconquered viral diseases as Lassa fever, Ebola, Hantavims, and AIDS. The role of urbanization and air travel in spreading viruses to large pools of susceptible people, the unpredictable nature of viral genetics and evolution, and the impact of politics on medicine are among the variables Oldstone cites to remind us that as a species we are always vulnerable. Interestingly, while the author loudly condemns governments and corporations for suppressing information, he is silent on the rivalries and contentions among scientists themselves: nary a word on Salk vs. Sabin, for example, nor Gallo vs. Montagnier. A bit of the old-boy network? In sum, a somewhat sanitized, professorial account of the ever-fascinating legacy of viral disease on human history. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

About Michael B. A. Oldstone

About the Author Michael B. A. Oldstone is a Member oProfessor) at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, where he directs a laboratory of viral immunobiology. He is currently a member of the World Health Organization steering committee concerned with the eradication of measles and poliovirus, an editor of the journal Virology, and the recipient of numerous scientific honors. He was also Scientific Counselor for the intramural program of the Allergy and Infectious Disease Unit of the National Institute of Health and was recently elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of more

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369 ratings
3.78 out of 5 stars
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4 40% (147)
3 26% (95)
2 8% (28)
1 2% (7)
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