Book Review: Twelve Diseases That Changed Our World

Modern society is far removed from the reality of death. That was not the case for the vast majority of human history, when parents would produce multiple offspring in the hope that a few might survive to adulthood. Well into the 20th century, infectious diseases cut lives tragically short, often in gruesome ways, radically transforming the course of human history in ways that are underappreciated in textbooks.

This is the focus of a book written by emeritus biology professor Irwin Sherman called “Twelve Diseases That Changed Our World,” which was originally published in 2007 but has taken on renewed relevance during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sherman masterfully interweaves explanations of the biology and epidemiology of the diseases with accounts, taken from historians or eyewitnesses, that are nauseatingly descriptive. Read the rest at Geopolitical Futures.

Mother Nature as a Geopolitical Force

History is biased, and not just because the victors tend to write it. The study of history is largely the study of humankind – specifically, the geopolitical events that have shaped human actions (and vice versa) over millennia. It’s true that to learn from the past, we must study ourselves. But what if we’re missing a large part of the story? What if Mother Nature plays just as large a role in shaping the course of human events as mankind? After all, any force that compels specific actions by nation-states is necessarily geopolitical. Read the rest at Geopolitical Futures.

Pathogen Jumped from Humans to Rabbits in 1976

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

Zoonotic diseases, such as the plague and Ebola virus, jump from animals to humans. Often, but not always, such interspecies transmission occurs following mutations in the pathogen’s genome that make it more suitable for targeting a new host. But, infectious disease is not a one-way street. This same evolutionary process also makes possible “reverse zoonosis” (more properly dubbed zooanthroponosis) — i.e., the transmission of disease from humans to animals. Continue reading

H7N9: The Next Influenza Pandemic?

This article was originally published on RealClearScience.

Since May of this year, 440 Chinese people have been infected with a new strain of influenza subtype H7N9, and 122 of them have died. Though the case-fatality rate suggested by this data is greatly inflated by asymptomatic and mild (and hence, unreported) cases, a new analysis in Trends in Microbiology suggests that the virus has the potential to become the next influenza pandemic. Continue reading