VIRUSES, PLAGUES AND HISTORY by Michael B.A. Oldstone

VIRUSES, PLAGUES AND HISTORY

KIRKUS REVIEW

 Familiar but compelling, the story of mankind's undoing by epidemic infectious diseases never fails to fascinate and appall. This retelling, by Scripps Research Institute virologist Oldstone, is less passionate than Laurie Garrett's The Coming Plague, being more or less a prosaic, factual account of viral plagues in recorded history. Oldstone provides background chapters on the nature of viruses and the ways the body's immune system combats them, then launches into a detailed description of the plagues themselves. He devotes a fair amount of space to smallpox, following its depredations from ancient Greece all the way up to the work of the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. Modern strategies have led to the total eradication of smallpox-- a major success, given that the disease killed 300 million people in the 20th century. Other success stories cited by Oldstone include the treatment of yellow fever, measles, and polio, although the lack of immunization programs still racks up enormous tolls. The World Health Organization estimates that in the 1980s and early '90s as many as 2.5 million children died of measles annually. The second half of the book deals with such unconquered viral diseases as Lassa fever, Ebola, Hantavirus, and AIDS. The role of urbanization and air travel in spreading viruses to large pools of susceptible people, the unpredictable nature of viral genetics and evolution, and the impact of politics on medicine are among the variables Oldstone cites to remind us that as a species we are always vulnerable. Interestingly, while the author loudly condemns governments and corporations for suppressing information, he is silent on the rivalries and contentions among scientists themselves: nary a word on Salk vs. Sabin, for example, nor Gallo vs. Montagnier. A bit of the old-boy network? In sum, a somewhat sanitized, professorial account of the ever-fascinating legacy of viral disease on human history. (64 illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-19-511723-9
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1997




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