Viruses, Plagues, and History: Past, Present and Future

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The story of viruses and humanity is a story of fear and ignorance, of grief and heartbreak, and of great bravery and sacrifice. Michael Oldstone tells all these stories as he illuminates the history of the devastating diseases that have tormented humanity, focusing mostly on the most famous viruses.
Oldstone begins with smallpox, polio, and measles. Nearly 300 million people were killed by smallpox in this century alone and the author presents a vivid account of the long campaign to eradicate this lethal killer. Oldstone then describes the fascinating viruses that have captured headlines in more recent years: Ebola, Hantavirus, mad cow disease (a frightening illness made worse by government mishandling and secrecy), and, of course, AIDS. 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—will make a comeback. For this revised edition, Oldstone includes discussions of new viruses like SARS, bird flu, virally caused cancers, chronic wasting disease, and West Nile, and fully updates the original text with new findings on particular viruses.
Viruses, Plagues, and History paints a sweeping portrait of humanity's long-standing conflict with our unseen viral enemies. Oldstone's book is a vivid history of a fascinating field, and a highly reliable dispatch from an eminent researcher on the front line of this ongoing campaign.

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Editorial Reviews

Doody's Review Service
Reviewer: Kurt M. Boughan, PhD (The Citadel)
Description: The past successes of modern virology in the control or elimination of major diseases are charted in this book. It also explains present and emerging challenges from the viral realm to science and society, in a manner that is both marvelously clear to lay readers, yet detailed enough to please and fascinate the professional. This is a revised version of the book, first published in 1998.
Purpose: The author's first purpose is to describe the struggle of humanity to control viral agents from the advent of modern virology to the present. Although his account touches upon complex historical, political, and cultural issues, it is decidedly — and sometimes rather narrowly — from his own special perspective as an eminent American senior virologist and former consultant to the World Health Organization for the eradication of poliomyelitis and measles. He also aims to explain emerging and potential threats from the world of viruses and prions. Running throughout this survey of past, present, and prospective efforts to control viral diseases is his strong advocacy for comprehensive, centralized, and powerful public health regimes, preferably coordinated on a global scale. This advocacy is colored by a seductive but naive conception of biomedical science as a pure font of goodness and truth, a light that stands clearly apart from the benighted spheres of politics and culture, and that serves to correct and justify them.
Audience: Both educated lay readers and professionals in the biomedical sciences can profit from this book. For some of the latter, especially those working in fields outside of virology or immunobiology, it could serve as a handy pocket reference.
Features: Part I surveys viral infection as a major factor in modern western history and features two chapters that explain the principles of virology and immunobiology. Part II tells the success stories in the human struggle against the virus; i.e., the triumphs over smallpox, yellow fever, measles, and poliomyelitis. Part III addresses present and future challenges from such agents as Lassa Fever, Ebola, Hantavirus, SARS, West Nile Virus, HIV/AIDS, Mad Cow Disease, and resurgent influenza.
Assessment: The author's conception of science and its relation to culture may be naive, but his book is hardly to be dismissed on that account. Indeed, his chapter on the mid-twentieth-century eradication of poliomyelitis ought to be required reading in our present climate of shrill, cynical dismissal of civil society and notions of the public good. He reminds us that not long ago, even the developed world suffered polio, yellow fever, and measles as routine horrors. Their control and eradication took community organizing and government intervention on a grand scale; it also took a profound public trust in — and solid funding of — modern biomedical science and its best practitioners. At the least, it required parents not to be so foolish as to prevent the vaccination of their children. "Libertarian" objections to strong public health regimes hold up poorly against this account of humanity's battle with viral disease. Later chapters on the emerging threats of SARS, resurgent influenza, and degenerative neurological disorders make a compelling case that the author's brand of rational, clear-headed medical liberalism will be necessary in the future if we wish to maintain even our current, limited freedom from microbial misery.
From the Publisher
"Readable books about viruses by experts are not plentiful enough, and the point of this essay is to recommend a recent arrival by the American virologist Michael Oldstone. In 17 chapters, the author gives the non-specialist reader a complete account of viruses and virus-caused plagues such as smallpox, yellow fever, measles, polio, hemorrhagic fever, Lassa fever, ebola, hantavirus, SARS, West Nile Virus, mad cow disease, and influenza...Read this book (available now)—it's a treat." —Dan Agin, Huffington Post

"...marvelously clear to lay readers, yet detailed enough to please and fascinate the professional."—Doody's

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195327311
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 11/2/2009
  • Edition description: Revised
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 471,592
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael B. A. Oldstone is Professor and Head of the Viral-Immunobiology Laboratory at The Scripps Research Institute. A leader in the field, he has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors and has served or serves on several national and international committees charged with understanding, treating and eliminating viral diseases. He was a consultant to the World Health Organization for the eradication of poliomyelitis and measles, and was a member of the SAGE Executive Board. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Table of Contents

Pt. 1 Viruses, Plagues, and History

Ch. 1 A General Introduction 3

Ch. 2 Introduction to the Principles of Virology 10

Ch. 3 Introduction to the Principles of Immunology 41

Pt. 2 Success Stories

Ch. 4 Smallpox 53

Ch. 5 Yellow Fever 102

Ch. 6 Measles Virus 135

Ch. 7 Poliomyelitis 159

Pt. 3 Present and Future Challenges

Ch. 8 An Overview of Newly Emerging Viral Plagues: The Hemorrhagic Fevers 199

Ch. 9 Lassa Fever 207

Ch. 10 Ebola 214

Ch. 11 Hantavirus 221

Ch. 12 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS): The First Pandemic of the Twenty-First Century 226

Ch. 13 West Nile Virus: Deaths of Crows and Humans 234

Ch. 14 Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV): AIDS, the Current Plague 251

Ch. 15 Mad Cow Disease and Englishmen: Spongiform Encephalopathies - Prion Disease 284

Ch. 16 Influenza Virus, the Plague That May Return 305

Ch. 17 Conclusions and Future Predictions 332

References 343

Index 371\

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 14, 2012

    Great Book!

    This was another great book pertaining to emerging diseases or those diseaes that have been a plague on mankind for hundreds of years. The history and the emergence of these infectious agents was fasinating! Mankind seems to be just a 1/2 step ahead of these plagues and it would not come as any surprise if mankind and the world is not faced with another pandemic event like what happened with Spanish flu. The role and impact of infectious diseases upon mankind and the role it played in war and conflict, not to mention on society was very intriguing. Thew history and the emergents of HIV was especially interesting.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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