Even after reading lots of books on infectious disease, I’m still always interested in a new one. Shah’s newest book, Pandemic, covers new developments and old patterns clearly and factually—and it is, at times, ominous and chilling. The current status of contagions and public health which Shah exposes is riveting, with fascinating details and previously unknown conclusions (to me, at least).
Shah loops the book’s history with the current day by tracing cholera’s two-hundred-year global attack from the Sunderbans, Bay of Bengal, in 1817 to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. She traces the history of Manhattan from Native American fishing grounds to cholera-breeding slums to the creation of the Manhattan Water Company, which become today’s JP Morgan Chase & Co. Her own family’s battle with the nearly indestructible MRSA infection becomes another datum in the appalling recital, revealing more unsettling contemporary difficulties, mostly due to how little we know about this awful condition.
The third chapter, Filth, is full of fantastic fecal facts. For instance, snuff was not always a tobacco product. Many in the 1700’s used powdered fecal matter in their noses, called poudrette. Martin Luther, in the 1500’s, took a spoonful of his own feces daily, for his health. (Before you get too critical, remember that some among us today think eating our baby’s placenta is healthy. And leeches are making their way back into medical practice, too, I hear.)
The chapter Crowds makes the case that the world has changed radically in the manner livestock are handled, contributing hugely to the current problems of contagion genes reasorting themselves into new mutated forms that can infect more species, more efficiently, more often. I was convinced.
Corruption examines the political influences and ramifications of disease outbreaks throughout history, and it is the most alarming factor of all. The current state of the UN’s World Health Organization as laid out here explains a lot about recent poor handling of outbreaks.
“Between 1980 and 2000, the number of deaths pathogens caused in the US alone rose nearly 60 percent…Excluding HIV, …by 22 percent.” I’m still reading this excellent book, but I strongly recommend that every single adult, all citizens, read the chapter on corruption. Our survival as a country, and as a species, may well depend on important changes in the handling of global disease. ~ Tessa May 2016 4 out of 5 stars