[Issue #12, Winter 2004-2005]
Six Modern Plagues
By Mark Jerome Walters
Washington Island Press, 2003
Reviewed by Dori Knoff
In this interesting and insightful book, the author describes the history
of six modern diseases and how the progression of these is affected by a
complicated set of ecological circumstances. I recommend this book to anyone
interested in the effects of the ecosystem on human health.
During the age of modern medicine and modern technology we have moved forward
in creating advanced diagnoses and in some arenas improved treatments for
many ailments. However, in the garden of the global ecosystem humans are
merely a part of the large and sometimes complex cycle of life, disease,
and death. In many cases no amount of modern intervention can save us from
the fact that we live in a dynamic state of balance and imbalance. These
imbalances can often be initiated by alterations that we make to our own
environment (through the consumption and alteration of natural resources).
One of the chapters describes the progression of Mad Cow disease. It places
the reader in the barn stall of the first farmhouse where Mad Cow was discovered
and allows the reader to walk in the boots of the scientists who sort through
the muck of this mysterious disease. The author explains how the rearrangement
of natural systems -- including the composition of feed stock -- have caused
grave health consequences for dairy farmers, cattle, and the human consumers
As he further explores the links between agricultural disease and human
disease, we learn that disease cannot only be related in different species
but that disease can spread between species. This is something that public
health officials fear and Hollywood writers embrace.
Other plagues include HIV/AIDS (the transmission of a monkey-borne virus
through contact with body fluids), an antibiotic-resistant Salmonella (derived
from livestock agriculture), Lyme disease (a presumed outbreak due to massive
deforestation), Hantavirus (linked to climactic changes), and West Nile
Virus (an international virus transferred through insects producing encephalitis-like
Although the author describes the scenarios in a lyrical style, the facts
are there for readers to analyze when considering the basis for these epidemics.
Modern Plagues from Amazon.com
Dori Knoff is a writer living in Cambridge, Wisconsin.
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