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Health Crises throughout History (January 2022): Modern Epidemics

Modern Epidemics

In the last 50 years epidemics such as the swine flu, Ebola, SARS, and Zika have shaped how we think and interact in society. In Epidemics and Society Frank M. Snowden discusses history, sanitation, germ theory, and eradication problems. The book helps the reader understand where global health is today in relation to its history. Dorothy Crawford takes a different route in Viruses: A Very Short Introduction, which considers the intricacies of HIV, H1N1, and SARS. Both are excellent introductions to viral outbreaks in the modern world.

Since the 1976 Ebola outbreak in western Africa, it has spread throughout other highly populated African countries and spilled over into other nations. In Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus, Richard Preston discusses the potential for zoonotic origins (though never definitely identified by science) and transmission. In some instances, the transmission is through traditional burial practices. This book tells the story of how the world, including the military, raced against time to contain Ebola. Similarly, in Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus David Quammen discusses how this virus emerges sporadically and without known origin in the jungles of Gabon. Quammen focuses on a village that was devastated by an outbreak. Both books depict the gruesome reality of Ebola, challenges with containment, and the mystery of emergence. 

Globalization aided the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome, more commonly referred to as SARS, in its transmission from Eastern countries such as China and Vietnam to Western countries like the United States and Canada. In SARS War: Combating the Disease, professors Leung and Ooi focus on the regions where more people have been infected (eastern countries) and tell the epidemiological story of origin and tracing. Also discussed are both Eastern and Western methods for treatment, containment, and prevention. Like Leung and Ooi, Thoman Abraham shares a story of SARS in Twenty-First Century Plague: The Story of SARS, but he concentrates on the global spread to over thirty countries in a matter of months. Abraham focuses on the global politics and economics of the disease, whereas Leung and Ooi tell the story from an etiological perspective.

Named for the forest in which it was originally identified (in Uganda) in the 1940’s, Zika remained largely ignored until 2015 when it emerged in Brazil in a rising number of newborn babies. Donald G. McNeil, Jr. shares Zika’s journey from Uganda to Brazil, to epidemic level spread across multiple regions in Zika: The Emerging Epidemic. NcNeil discusses politics, prevention, and implications for pregnancy and health of mother and baby. In Zika Virus Disease: From Origin to Outbreak, Adnan I. Qureshi tells a similar story but concentrates more on clinical aspects like symptoms. 

Just a decade before COVID-19 was identified in Wuhan, China, H1N1, or Swine Flu as it is known colloquially, was identified in two United States (US) children. The 2019 outbreak crossed boarders with the US children being diagnosed in Mexico. The Viral Network: A Pathology of the H1N1 Influenza Pandemic, by Theresa MacPhail, looks at the pandemic through a lens of fear and global public health. This book gives a rare account of virology labs at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and looks at the disease from a socioecological perspective, whereas Neustandt and Fineberg focus on the Swine Flu from the perspective of immunization programs in The Swine Flu Affair: Decision-Making on a Slippery Disease

Works Cited