A fascinating tour through the world of tropical diseases, led by a guide with a lively sense of humor and a keen knowledge...



A fascinating tour through the world of tropical diseases, led by a guide with a lively sense of humor and a keen knowledge of medical history. While most people would prefer to think of tropical parasites and pathogens as inhabitants of some distant world, Desowitz, a specialist in tropical medicine and medical microbiology (The Malaria Capers, 1991), brings them perilously close to home. Malaria he calls ""as American as the heart attack or apple pie,"" and yellow fever once killed one-tenth of Philadelphia's population. It was yellow fever, the author explains, that brought Louisiana into the US, for its high death rate convinced Napoleon that his American holdings were a ""worthless, pestilential sinkhole."" Of the diseases whose history Desowitz recounts, perhaps the least known is chronic hookworm anemia, a profoundly debilitating illness once epidemic in the American South. In a chapter subtitled ""Kid Rockefeller and the Battling Hookworm,"" Desowitz describes how Rockefeller philanthropy not only transformed the South but led to global anti-hookworm programs. While Desowitz ranges over thousands of years in this chronicle, his concern is the present and the future. In a tale of medical detection reminiscent of Berton Rouchâ, he relates how a group of Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn--who, of course, shun any form of pig's meat--recently became infected with a pig tapeworm from Mexico. His message is clear: The threat of infectious diseases is ever present. Coming ecological-epidemiological shifts may bring some bad times--global warming creates a wonderful world for insects and the diseases they carry--and our present antibiotic agents have already begun to fail us, Desowitz concludes somberly. He urges increased support for all science, for just as threats come from unexpected sources, so do answers. (For the record, Desowitz believes that Pinta, a form of syphilis, was carried back to Europe by Columbus's crew.) A real-life thriller.

Pub Date: May 5, 1997


Page Count: 288

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1997