- 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: 22 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,882,453 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Plague Time: How Stealth Infections Cause Cancer, Heart Disease, and Other Deadly Ailments 1st Edition
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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.
Top customer reviews
PS I'm 1/3 of the way through it at this point.
Ewald does a marvelous job of taking the readers through the intricacies of evolutionary biology. He effectively demonstrates how evolutionary biology theories can help explain many of the mysteries surrounding diseases that are currently attributed to a multitude of causes. It should be noted that he never definitively proves that viruses and bacteria are the causes of these diseases. But, he does present enough evidence to justify further exploration of the idea.
The book is not perfect. Some of the language gets a little technical at times. Also, Ewald has a tendency to repeat the same examples, thus giving the impression that there is some "filler" in the book. But, these points don't detract from the fact that this is a very persuasive work. The theories inside it may prove to be invalid, but they are certainly worth further exploration by both the scientific community and the reader attempting to educate themselves on their health.
I'm not a medical professional, just an interested layman. Mr. Ewald's book is an easy read for a non-professional. If you're interested in the topic this book will not disappoint.
Seriously, there is some good information here but it is so poorly written and surrounded by fluff. The topics chase each other tails over and over. This book could have been written on half the pages it took. The author should have taken a vertical approach and written about each disease and used his chapters as subheadings to better organize the book. It seemed unorganized reading about the same diseases over and over a paragraph at a time and it was so wordy and drawn out, I feel like the author was just rambling in his sleep. Also...diarrhea.
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. Chlamydia pneumoniae bacteria are increasingly being implicated in heart disease. In Chapter Eight, Ewald makes the case for C. pneumoniae being the cause not only of atherosclerosis but Alzheimer's disease as well! Again, if correct, this is a revolution. The interesting (and terrible) thing about the peptic ulcer story is that it was known as long ago as the forties that peptic ulcers could be successfully treated with antibiotics, but that knowledge somehow became lost (!) until the early nineties (p. 99).
There is more: Ewald reports that Japanese researchers found the Borna disease virus "in one third of their patients diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome" and that this same virus "has been implicated in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder" (p. 162). I would not be surprised to learn that other chronic diseases of unclear etiology such as fibromyalgia, certain kinds of arthritis, and even unexplained chronic pain are caused or at least initiated by infectious agents, probably viruses. (Actually I wouldn't be surprised to learn that a new kind of infectious agent, something smaller and stealthier than a virus is the cause of some human diseases. But then I used to write science fiction.)
One of Ewald's main arguments is that we can lessen the virulence of pathogens by the way we interact with them. An insight from evolutionary medicine is that a pathogen cannot afford to kill its host before it can spread from that host. However, if it can spread from the dead corpse of its host, then it can be as virulent as it likes. In places in the world where there are no screens and mosquitoes have easy access to their victims, the malaria protozoan tends to weaken its victims so much they can't even swat mosquitoes (protecting its vector!). However in areas where the buildings are made mosquito proof, the protozoan dare not be so virulent since the mosquitoes can only get to the hosts that are still able to be up and out of doors. Similarly, sexually transmitted diseases are more benign in populations that tend to be monogamous or to change partners infrequently. In populations that practice promiscuous sex frequently, the pathogen can afford to be very nasty because it will get transmitted often. But if the host is not going to be having sex with anyone new or soon, the germ must be nice and bide its time without knocking its host out of action. This principle also applies to cholera. If people have access to clean water the cholera bacterium must be relatively benign because it is going to take a long time to get passed on. But if the water supply is befouled with human feces, then the bacterium can be massively virulent, and in fact is rewarded for being so as its progeny come pouring out of the dying bodies of its victims and into the water supply.
One of the highlights of the book is Chapter Four, "The Magnificent Defense" in which Ewald describes the immune system and how it works in language that is vivid and easy to comprehend. In a startlingly apt analogy he compares the immune system to our brain. Both are incredibly complex systems constructed through the laborious trial and error mechanism of evolution. And both are "decision-making systems" (p. 67). I like this analogy and predict that researchers who have knowledge of both systems will make the scientific breakthroughs of the future. I would add that knowledge of the elaborate, brain-like social systems of bees, ants, and termites would also be valuable.
Ewald concludes the book with some guidance on how we might better co-exist with pathogens. One of the ideas is simple: stay home and don't go to work with a cold or flu. Staying home will keep the pathogen relatively benign (p. 210). He insists that we need more education about evolution in our schools, and even in college. I couldn't agree more. In the United States people that approve text books tend to be so terrified of know-nothing "creationist" types that high school biology texts typically mention evolution only as a side note, when in fact it is, as Ewald has it on page 237, "the fundamental unifying principle of biology."