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Evolution of Infectious Disease [Paperback]

Paul W. Ewald
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 10, 1996 0195111397 978-0195111392
Findings from the field of evolutionary biology are yielding dramatic insights for health scientists, especially those involved in the fight against infectious diseases. This book is the first in-depth presentation of these insights. In detailing why the pathogens that cause malaria, smallpox, mad cow disease, tuberculosis, and AIDS have their special kinds of deadliness, the book shows how efforts to control virtually all diseases would benefit from a more thorough application of evolutionary principles. In fact, the union of health science with evolutionary biology offers an entirely new dimension to policy making, as the possibility of determining the future course of many diseases becomes a reality. Written in a clear, accessible style, this book is intended for a wide readership among both health professionals and general readers.

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Editorial Reviews


"Ewald's use and command of the historical literature on infectious diseases is without parallel among evolutionary biologists.... The subject of this treatise is or should be of great general interest. The text is...very readable and the treatment not at all technical.... These attributes are a considerable virtue. The book should draw the large audience the subject deserves." --Science

About the Author

Paul W. Ewald is a professor and Chair of the Biology Department at Amherst College, and holds an adjunct faculty appointment at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He has been named the first George E. Burch Fellow of Theoretic Medicine and Affiliated Sciences, a position awarded by the Smithsonian Institution and hosted by the Smithsonian Tropical Institute.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (October 10, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195111397
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195111392
  • Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 6 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,000,788 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Pathogen's Survival Manual May 24, 2002
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Paul W. Ewald is a professor of biology at Amherst College. He was the first recipient of the George E. Burch Fellowship in Theoretic Medicine and Affiliated Sciences. He conceived a new discipline called 'evolutionary epidemiology,' and "Evolution of Infectious Disease (1994)" is widely acknowledged as the watershed event for the emergence of this discipline, although I haven't yet seen many references to it ("Parasite Rex" by Carl Zimmer is an exception). This is a shame, because "Evolution of Infectious Disease" explains many medical mysteries, such as why people with multiple sex partners tend to harbor a more virulent version of AIDS, and why the Great Flu Pandemic of 1918 killed so many people (20 to 100 million).
'Darwinian medicine' is the science of trying to find evolutionary explanations for vulnerabilities to disease. A pathogen can survive in a population, explains Ewald, only if it can easily transmit its progeny from one host to another. One way to do this is to take a long time to disable a host, giving him plenty of time to come into contact with other potential victims. This would cause selection for a beneficial form of the disease. If the disease can pass quickly from one host to another, it will select for virulence in order to infect more hosts. Therefore if host-to-host passage can be delayed (by screened windows in the case of malaria), the disease will select for longevity---it makes no evolutionary sense to kill a host before the disease can be passed on.
Some diseases such as Ebola Fever kill the host too quickly, which is why Ewald believes this particular infection will not become pandemic.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative and Thought Provoking December 31, 2002
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If Plague Time can be considered to be "Evolutionary Epidemiology for Dummies", then Evolution of Infectious Disease is the technical foundation behind the ideas presented in that other work. Ewald builds this foundation by showing that evolutionary causes are behind many diseases plaguing mankind today. He also takes great care in pointing out how crafting treatment programs with evolutionary factors in mind would likely control these scourges. By presenting the information in this manner, Ewald gives his audience with a workable plan to control disease that bypasses many of the shortfalls associated with conventional medicine.
Evolution of Infectious Disease has already been called a milestone in the history of epidemiology. It is easy to understand why. The ideas presented in the book are revolutionary; the level of research to support them is impeccable; and they are conveyed in a manner which is both accessible and applicable. Given these qualities, it is no surprise that Evolution of Infectious Disease is now recognized as an essential text for understanding and combating disease.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent review of a timely subject August 23, 1998
By A Customer
This is an excellent review of the application of evolution theory to understanding disease. Lacking the melodrama of Garrett's "The Coming Plague," it presents a comprehensive view of how to understand disease evolution. The analyses are clear and the data fascinating. A gold mine of dissertation subjects.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enormously Satisfying and Rich book..... December 10, 2001
By Ross M
This was one of the most intellectually exciting books I have read in a long time. Ewald covers biochemistry, history, social policy, medicine, and academic research in a wonderfully thoughtful, logical, innovative and exciting 'new' way of looking at germ theory.
I wholeheartedly and unreservedly recommend this book as an excellent contribution to scientific literacy, intelligent conversation, and global health policy. (...)
Happy Reading!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great Read May 29, 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book made a seemingly boring subject into a really interesting read from an anthropological/ecological viewpoint. Definitely plan on reading it again!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Extremely well researched work November 23, 2010
By Marvyy
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is not for everyone. It is loaded with technical scientific jargon (although there is a detailed glossary at the end) and is complete with references for each statement made by the author. For those interested in evolutionary biology and its clinical implications however, this book is a goldmine. Ewald takes his readers through the evolution of virulence, debunking the unsubstantiated notion that parasitic organisms ultimately evolve towards benigness with innumerable references from the scientific literature. He sheds light on why vector born diseases are generally more severe than non-vector born ones and reveals instances in which the latter can evolve increased virulence (waterborne transmission, war...). He then embarks on explaining the evolution of the HIV virus, from a relatively benign virus to today's dangerous pandemic, using the same concepts developed in his earlier chapters. The main premise of this book is the evolutionary concept that parasitic organisms will evolve increased virulence if opportunities for transmission are increased. This is because parasites can afford to reproduce to the point of severely harming their hosts if new hosts abound. Benigness, on the other hand, evolves when there are fewer opportunities for transmission. I recommend this book for all clinicians, because of the strong clinical implications that are contained within its pages. If we are to come a step closer to containing infectious diseases, we must understand how they evolve, how they operate and we must work with evolution rather than against it in order to achieve our ambitious goals.
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