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Plagues & Poxes: The Impact of Human History on Epidemic Disease / Edition 1

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Since publication of the initial version of Plagues & Poxes in 1987, which had the optimistic subtitle "The Rise and Fall of Epidemic Disease," the rise of new diseases such as AIDS and the deliberate modification and weaponization of diseases such as anthrax have changed the way we perceive infectious disease.

With major modifications to deal with this new reality, the acclaimed author of Civil War Medicine: Challenges and Triumphs has updated and revised this series of essays about changing disease patterns in history and some of the key events and people involved in them. It deals with the history of major outbreaks of disease - both infectious diseases such as plague and smallpox and noninfectious diseases - and shows how they are in many cases caused inadvertently by human actions, including warfare, commercial travel, social adaptations, and dietary modifications. To these must now be added discussion of the intentional spreading of disease by acts of bioterrorism, and the history and knowledge of those diseases that are thought to be potential candidates for intentional spread by bioterrorists.

Among the many topics discussed are:

  • How the spread of smallpox and measles among previously unexposed populations in the Americas, the introduction of malaria and yellow fever from Africa via the importation of slaves into the Western hemisphere, and the importation of syphilis to Europe all are related to the modern interchange of diseases such as AIDS.
  • How the ever-larger populations in the cities of Europe and North America gave rise to "crowd diseases" such as polio by permitting the existence of sufficient numbers of non-immune people in sufficient numbers to keep the diseases from dying out.

    How the domestication of animals allowed diseases of animals to affect humans, or perhaps become genetically modified to become epidemic human diseases.

  • Why the concept of deficiency diseases was not understood before the early twentieth century; disease, after all, was the presence of something abnormal, how could it be due to the absence of something? In fact, the first epidemic disease in human history probably was iron deficiency anemia.
  • How changes in the availability and nature of specific foods have affected the size of population groups and their health throughout history. The introduction of potatoes to Ireland and corn to Europe, and the relationship between the modern technique of rice milling and beriberi, all illustrate the fragile nutritional state that results when any single vegetable crop is the main source of food.
  • Why biological warfare is not a new phenomenon. There have been attempts to intentionally cause epidemic disease almost since the dawn of recorded history, including the contamination of wells and other water sources of armies and civilian populations; of course, the spread of smallpox to Native Americans during the French and Indian War is known to every schoolchild. With our increased technology, it is not surprising that we now have to deal with problems such as weaponized spores of anthrax.
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Editorial Reviews

Doody's Review Service
Reviewer: Joseph R. Lentino, M.D.,Ph.D(Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine)
Description: This is an update of the first edition, which was published prior to the AIDS epidemic. This is an excellent and quite fascinating summary of impact of microbial and non-microbial induced diseases on the outcome of human endeavors.
Purpose: The book proposes to familiarize the reader with the impact of disease on the development of human civilization. The author is a masterful storyteller who holds the reader's interest throughout each chapter. I believe these to be worthy objectives since learned individuals should know history so as to not repeat the mistakes of the past. The book succeeds in its purpose.
Audience: This book can be read by the general public. Infectious Disease practitioners may already know the facts behind the diseases but will be surprised and entertained by the impact of those diseases on history. I believe the author's target audience consists primarily of medical personnel. The author is a very credible authority in the book's subject matter.
Features: He presents a wonderful review of the impact of disease on the outcome of historical events such as the Battle of Trafalgar; why FDR got polio, how it changed his life and subsequently the lives of most Americans; and how the Panama canal finally was built and why it was built by the Americans and not the French. The book is thought provoking and makes one appreciate the relatively sanitary conditions we take for granted while asking how can it be so bad for the rest of the world.
Assessment: As I have never read the first edition, I can make no comparison, but the second edition is an excellent read. Do not start this book at night unless you suffer from insomnia; the stories are spellbinding to anyone who loves history.
Clinical Practice - Brit J.
"Plagues & Poxes is entertaining and concisely offers much information that is not easily available. — New England Journal of Medicine

"The book will be useful to those wishing to gain the perspective of a distinguished scholar on the fascinating relationships of human behavior, disease, and history... The essays are well written, referenced, and filled with fascinating details of the people and events involved." — Journal of the American Medical Association

"...for those who want to know the long-range history and what general progress has been made in the containment or treatment of many of the world's worst diseases, or for those interested in the relationship between human progress and the increase of certain types of disease, it would be a good choice." —

"Serves up a rich feast of disease, danger, and death... What sets this book apart is breadth wed to concision." — Foreword Magazine

"Dr. Bollet's collections of elegantly and excitingly with a wide range of topics... excellent accounts of the illnesses of various presidents of the U.S..." — Medical History

"Bollet's book bring[s] a new perspective on disease to the general reader."— Midwest Book Review

"Do not start this book at night unless you suffer from insomnia; the stories are spellbinding to anyone who loves history."— Doody's Reviews

"An excellent medical-based survey which charts the rise and change of disease patterns throughout human history."— The Bookwatch

"...well written and interesting...a perfect companion on a transcontinental flight."—American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

"A fascinating account of how diseases change as a result of both known and unknown factors." — Brit. J. Clinical Practice

4 Stars! from Doody
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781888799798
  • Publisher: Demos Medical Publishing, LLC
  • Publication date: 6/1/2004
  • Edition description: Subsequent
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 237
  • Sales rank: 436,373
  • Product dimensions: 5.75 (w) x 8.75 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Dr. Bollet is a member of many prestigious scientific societies and societies devoted to medical history. He has been particularly interested in the comings and goings of diseases and the occurrence of new diseases, and many of his essays on that subject served as the basis of Plagues &Poxes. He has also studied intensively the medical aspects of the Civil War and nineteenth century medicine in general; his critically acclaimed book Civil War Medicine: Challenges and Triumphs was published in 2002.

Dr. Alfred Jay Bollet has had a long and distinguished medical career, with a focus in internal medicine and rheumatology. He has served on the faculty of several medical schools, was chairman of the departments of medicine at the Medical College of Georgia and the State University of New York in Brooklyn, and has been Clinical Professor of Medicine at Yale University School of Medicine for many years.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Unintentional Causes of Epidemic Diseases: The Effect of Human History on Disease. Infectious Diseases.Bubonic Plague; The Little Flies that Brought Death: Part 1: Malaria; The Little Flies that Brought Death: Part 2: Yellow Fever; The Great Pox: Syphilis; The Smallpox; Safe Water And Unsafe Water: Epidemic Cholera; President Wilson and the Blitzkatarrh: The story of the great Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919; The Rise and Fall of Epidemic Poliomyelitis: Why Did Franklin Delano Roosevelt Get Infantile Paralysis As An Adult?. Non-Infectious Diseases. Beriberi: An Epidemic That Affected Rice-Eaters; The Three M's Produce The Four D's: The Epidemics of Pellagra; The Purpura Nautica: Epidemic Scurvy; Dying for a Cigar? How about a Cigarette? Part I: Smoking and Epidemic Cancer: A Story of Two Presidents and a Prince ; Dying for a cigar? How about a cigarette? Part II: The Death of President Harding: Poisoning or the Start of an Epidemic?; Rickets; Gout. Intentionally Induced Diseases: Bioterrorism. The most feared induced diseases: anthrax and botulism; Conclusion: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Epidemic Disease, Intentional and Unintentional.

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