Six Modern Plagues: and How We Are Causing Them / Edition 1

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West Nile Virus.Mad Cow Disease.HIV/AIDS.Hantavirus.Lyme Disease. . .and a new strain of Salmonella -such modern epidemics have emerged over the past few decades as mysterious, yet significant risks to human health. These "plagues" are forcing us to modify our lifestyles in ways that minimize our chances of becoming a statistic in the latest tally of the afflicted. In Six Modern Plagues, Mark Jerome Walters offers us the first book for the general reader that connects these emerging health risks and their ecological origins. Drawing on new research, interviews, and his own investigations, Walters weaves together a compelling argument: that changes humans have made to the environment, from warming the climate to clearing the forests, have contributed to, if not caused a rising tide of diseases that are afflicting humans and many other species. According to Walters, humans are not always innocent bystanders to infectious disease. To the contrary, in the case of many modern epidemics, we are the instigators. This ground-breaking introduction to the connection between disease and environmental degradation should be read by all those interested in their health and the health of others.

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Editorial Reviews

<i>Nature</i> - Tony McMichael

"Refreshingly, this latest book explores the underlying shifts in human ecology and behavior that have potentiated recent epidemics . . .Walters achieves a balance between environmental science, clinical medicine, human interest, and social comment."
author of Second Nature and The Botany of Desire - Michael Pollan

"Six Modern Plagues and How We Are Causing Them is a fascinating work of ecological journalism, utterly convincing in its argument: that our health and the health of the environment are intimately linked, and we overlook that link at our peril."
M.D., M.P.H., Center for Health and the Global Environment, Harvard Medical School - Paul R. Epstein

"Mark Walters weaves a fine thread of human disturbances through the quilt work of modern pandemics. After being drawn engagingly into the explosive symptoms of global environmental change, readers will come to understand that we have no choice but to make peace with nature."
New York Times

"In a clear, engaging style, Dr. Walters tells the tale of each disease like a detective story. He allows each mystery to unfold as it did in reality, often slowly, through the lives of the plants and animals involved, the first human victims, the government officials who tried to respond, and the scientists who ultimately explained what was happening."

"Refreshingly, this latest book explores the underlying shifts in human ecology and behavior that have potentiated recent epidemics . . .Walters achieves a balance between environmental science, clinical medicine, human interest, and social comment."
The New York Times

"In a clear, engaging style, Dr. Walters tells the tale of each disease like a detective story. He allows each mystery to unfold as it did in reality, often slowly, through the lives of the plants and animals involved, the first human victims, the government officials who tried to respond, and the scientists who ultimately explained what was happening."

"Refreshingly, this latest book explores the underlying shifts in human ecology and behavior that have potentiated recent epidemics . . .Walters achieves a balance between environmental science, clinical medicine, human interest, and social comment."
The New York Times
Dr. Walters shies away from proposing specific solutions, but Six Plagues suggests that the world needs nothing less than wholesale changes in the way we live -- what fuels we use, what food we eat and how it is raised, what wild animals we tolerate near us, even where we live.

But if Six Plagues does not offer explicit solutions, it persuasively raises the alarm. It draws compelling, even disturbing, connections between disease and forces as implacable as population growth, deforestation and modern lifestyles that consume fuel, meat and acreage at an ever-growing pace. — Richard Perez-Pena

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. (Sept. 24) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Many recent books have considered the problem of emerging diseases, yet lay readers will find this a particularly fascinating and readable look at the situation. Walters, a veterinarian and science journalist (A Shadow and a Song: The Struggle To Save an Endangered Species), uses the examples of mad cow disease, AIDS, Salmonella DT104, Lyme disease, Hantavirus, and the West Nile virus to illustrate how continuous changes to the environment can contribute to the spread of disease. Global warming, increased human contact with wild animals, and increased international travel are just a few of the changes that have made an impact. By taking a brief look at the recent SARS epidemic, Walters aptly illustrates that the situation is not improving. A quick read and a great introduction to the topic, this is recommended for public and undergraduate collections. Research libraries looking for more depth should consider Tony McMichael's Human Frontiers, Environments, and Disease or Laurie Garrett's slightly dated but still relevant The Coming Plague.-Tina Neville, Univ. of South Florida at St. Petersburg Lib. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781559639927
  • Publisher: Island Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/2003
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Jerome Walters is an associate professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg. He has been a visiting lecturer at Harvard Medical School and an associate at Harvard's Center for Health and the Global Environment. His education includes degrees in veterinary medicine and journalism.

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1. The Dark Side of Progress: Mad Cow Disease
Chapter 2. A Chimp Called Amandine: HIV/AIDS
Chapter 3. The Travels of Antibiotic Resistance: Salmonella DT104
Chapter 4. Of Old Growth and Arthritis: Lyme Disease 
Chapter 5. A Spring to Die For: Hantavirus
Chapter 6. A Virus from the Nile
Epilogue: SARS and Beyond
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 13, 2004

    Skip this one, read something else if you want to learn something

    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 and Michael D'Antonio¿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. Thanks to globalization, economic growth, and human ingenuity, the average lifespan is now longer than anytime in history. With economic growth, we have been able to make remarkable progress in the battle against disease. Aggressive human action has removed smallpox from the menu of diseases in the transmission cycle (only an act of terrorism could bring it back). Determined efforts, rather than passive responses (which Walters recommends), have made the last decade less disease-ridden. That is not to say the challenges don't continue. In addition to emerging infections in the Western world, people in developing nations suffer from diseases on a catastrophic scale. Consider the simple fact that people living in huts lack things that most people have in those 'sprawling' neighborhoods that Walters dubs 'shortsighted efforts to make the world more hospitable for humans.' They lack, for instance, barriers to mosquito entry such as screened windows¿leaving them exposed to malaria-carrying insects that produce several hundred million illnesses and several million deaths every year. Most of malaria's victims are children. The spraying of DDT on the walls of these homes¿one of the most affordable options for the poor¿could act as an alternative barrier to mosquitoes. But Walters never offers such advice or even bothers to acknowledge the millions who die owing to primitive living conditions. Walters's presentation of the ¿facts¿ about many of the diseases should also be read with a critical eye as he often doesn¿t tell the whole story. For example, consider his chapter on antibiotic use in animals, which he suggests is creating antibiotic resistant organisms in our food that pose serious risks. He basically says that farmers give these medications to farm animals because they are lazy and just want to make ¿extra money.¿ While there is some risk of resistant microbes developing, the impact is far more limited that Walters suggests, and risk can be managed. Most resistance problems result from the use of antibiotics in hospitals. Walters doesn¿t note that fact or offer useful advice about how to address the problem. For example, proper cook

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 4, 2003

    Great Writing, Scary Subject

    This is a tremendous book. I couldn't put it down, and was shocked to learn about the human impact on disease. If everyone in the country read this book, perhaps we would not be so 'surprised' the next time the US is hit by West Nile Virus, or Monkey Pox, or whatever horrible epidemic is next.

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