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Plague Time: How Stealth Infections Cause Cancer, Heart Disease, and Other Deadly Ailments 1st Edition

20 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0684869001
ISBN-10: 0684869004
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Could breast cancer be caused, not by genes, but by a pathogen passed to humans from mice? Very possibly, according to Amherst College biology professor Ewald (Evolution of Infectious Disease) in this controversial page-turner that's certain to garner attention. In a cogent defense of our evolutionarily selected genes, Ewald proposes that the true culprits behind chronic ailments and even mental disorders are pathogens. He propels his argument by noting the "biases of human thought" that inhibited scientific growth in the 19th century (when the notion of microbes was first rejected) and those that are, he believes, stifling the research of infectious diseases today. For example, the infectious origin of peptic ulcers wasn't recognized until the mid-1980s, more than 30 years after physicians demonstrated the effectiveness of antibacterial agents in ulcer patients. The reason for this "scientific paralysis" lies in the prevalent misconception that most infectious diseases are like the common cold, acute yet ephemeral rather than chronic. Challenging this popular mindset, Ewald thoroughly examines the calculated attack strategies of a number of chronic, sexually transmitted diseases (such as herpes, syphilis and AIDS). In contrast to the complex task of determining disease origins, however, Ewald's solutions are surprisingly simple: clean water, safe sex, home care when you're ill, awareness of pathogen evolution and more funding. The world of infectious diseases, Ewald makes clear, continues to thriveAand anyone involved in the study or practice of medicine and any scientifically literate reader curious about the origins of disease will want to read this challenging work. Author tour. (Nov. 14)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

For many years stomach ulcers were thought to be the product of stress, acid, and spicy foods; now we know they are caused by bacteria. Amherst biology professor Ewald (Evolution of Infectious Diseases) suggests that many other chronic diseasesDincluding clogged arteries, diabetes, cancer, and schizophreniaDare at least partially caused by infectious agents, and here he presents research that bolsters his claims. Beyond this, he argues that studying how infectious agents evolve can lead to techniques for more effective control of killer diseases such as malaria and AIDS through decreasing their virulence. He also discusses some ethical issues related to treating diseases. An example is whether it is best to treat an individual with antibiotics when this may cause problems for a whole population if antibiotic resistance in bacteria is a result. Ewald's ideas are controversial but intriguing and have far-reaching implications. His clear, entertaining, and well-documented style makes the book appealing to a wide variety of readers. Highly recommended for all types of libraries.DMarit MacArthur Taylor, Auraria Lib., Denver
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; 1 edition (November 14, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684869004
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684869001
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #913,978 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

88 of 92 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 6, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book clearly deserves more than five stars. This is one of the three best books published so far in 2000 that I have read.
Plague Time is an important book for the future health of all. It is the most articulate argument I have seen for improving the basic mechanisms of studying and preventing disease in the most effective ways. And it shows important lessons about what is needed to overcome stalled progress in any field. Professor Ewald is a profound stallbuster! We will only get full benefit from his work though, if this thinking is quickly absorbed by the medical community, as a sort of idea virus.
The perspective of this book will be new to many readers. Evolutionary biology is something that few have learned in school. Basically, the field looks at a germ's eye view of the world.
For example, if a germ kills the host it feeds on too quickly, that's bad for the germ. The germ hasn't yet had time to spread to a new host. On the other hand, if it takes too long to spread to other hosts, that's bad for a germ also. So germs will do best that are able to spread quickly from host to host, and keep the host alive to provide more food. That spells a prescription for the prevalence of many chronic diseases that are associated with long-lived infections from bacteria and viruses.
The germ theory of disease is only about 120 years old. So it is fairly recent that we have been using hygiene (washing between patients and clean water to drink), vaccines (to help the body's immune system prepare for a larger invasion), and antibiotics (to kill bacteria) to control disease-producing agents. From this work, we have learned that acute diseases are almost always linked to a bacterial or virus invasion of our bodies.
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37 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 29, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Ewald's startling thesis is that "infection is at the root of the major chronic diseases of our time" (p. 271). These diseases include the two big killers, cancer and heart disease, and possibly Alzheimer's. His thesis is a heresy to a significant part of the medical establishment, and if correct, a revolution in the making. The conventional wisdom believes that cancer and heart disease are caused by a combination of factors including hereditary predisposition (bad genes), environmental catalysts (pollution), bad life style choices (fatty diet, alcohol, cigarettes), stress, etc. But what Ewald is saying is that there is a bacterium or a virus that causes these chronic diseases.
One of the powerful ideas behind Ewald's belief is the growing realization from evolutionary medicine that a major human disease cannot possibly be caused by bad genes since natural selection would have weeded them out long ago (pp. 55-56). Diseases caused by bad genes can only occur in a small percentage of a given population. The only exception would be a "bad gene" that has a compensating adaptive characteristic, such as the gene for sickle cells which confers immunity to malaria. Consequently, "the best bet is that they [chronic diseases] have infectious causes" (p. 56).
The practical evidence, evidence that has been consistently explained away or ignored, is the actual presence of disease agents in the tissues. Thus cervical cancer is now known to be caused by a papillomavirus that hides in the tumors and as such is a sexually transmitted disease. Peptic ulcers are now known to be caused by a bacterium, Helicobacter pylori, and not worry or stress or booze, although these may be contributing factors.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on February 19, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Not genes but germs cause most chronic diseases. So argues evolutionary biologist Paul Ewald in his new book, "Plague Time: How Stealth Infections Cause Cancers, Heart Disease, and Other Deadly Ailments," (Free Press, 282 pp, ...).
The Amherst professor is trying to drag the medical establishment into the Darwinian age. While modern research often aims to uncover genetic factors in major diseases, Ewald contends that "human genome mania" often violates the fundamental principle of biology, Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection. Darwin argued that families with harmful hereditary traits will die out over time, asserts Ewald, and would be replaced by lineages whose hereditary constitution better enables them to survive and reproduce.
Ultimate goals aside, Ewald has made sure that lay readers will find his book interesting and intelligible. He believes that patients are often more open-minded than their doctors.
In an interview, Ewald claimed that the health benefits of the Human Genome Project are over hyped because "most diseases aren't genetic." He said research funds dedicated to improve antibiotics would bring greater payoffs than those spent on the glamour field of genetic research.
Ewald, who is not a medical doctor, said, "My goal is to bring into medicine all of biology, especially evolution."
So far, he has had more success persuading other biologists than the medical establishment. The late William D. Hamilton of Oxford University, England -- considered by the likes of Edward O.
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