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Tag: disease

The Atlas of Disease by Sandra Hempel

 

Behind every disease is a story, a complex narrative woven of multiple threads, from the natural history of the disease, to the tale of its discovery and its place in history.
But what is vital in all of this is how the disease spreads and develops. In The Atlas of Disease, Sandra Hempel reveals how maps have uncovered insightful information about the history of disease, from the seventeenth century plague maps that revealed the radical idea that diseases might be carried and spread by humans, to cholera maps in the 1800s showing the disease was carried by water, right up to the AIDs epidemic in the 1980s and the recent Ebola outbreak.

Crucially, The Atlas of Disease will also explore how cartographic techniques have been used to combat epidemics by revealing previously hidden patterns. These discoveries have changed the course of history, affected human evolution, stimulated advances in medicine and shaped the course of countless lives.

Thanks to NetGalley for granting my wish to access this ARC! For anyone who is interested in the history of disease, this book is a dream come true. The author delves into each disease with a thoughtful manner and straightforward way, using maps of the world to show the spread of each illness. These maps add a new dimension of understanding to the text, and underscore how devastating the spread of disease can be. The trail of germs is traced across the continents for each disease, adding a quiet horror to the author’s words.  This alone makes the book worth buying – no other book I’ve read with this subject has illustrations quite like this. Interspersed in the chapters are other bits of artwork, either paintings of people suffering or government posters warning townfolk of the ravages of the flu, yellow fever, measles, and the like. THE ATLAS OF DISEASE stands out head and shoulders among other novels in this genre.

There are 4 sections to the book: airborne, waterborne, insects and animals, and human to human. Each chapter in the section then outlines a disease, from AIDS to Zika. The opening page has the disease name, the causal agent, transmission, symptoms, incidence and deaths, prevalence, prevention, treatment, and global strategy. For example, diptheria’s incidence and deaths statement lets us know that the germ causes around 5,000 cases per year worldwide, with 5-10% cases being fatal. The global strategy notes that there are childhood vaccination programs, but the World Health Organization (WHO) describes it as a “forgotten” disease. On the opposite page there is a painting by Francisco de Goya showing a man holding a child on his lap, supporting his head with his left hand while he probes the child’s mouth with his right. The work is entitled El Lazarillo de Tormes or El Garrotillo (“Diptheria”). When you turn the page you see illustrations of how the illness attacks the lining of the throat, causing the victim to strangle and suffocate.

I can honestly say I have learned more from this book than from many others I’ve read. The writer’s style is straightforward, sharing facts without drama, and extremely easy to comprehend. You won’t need a medical background to appreciate ATLAS. The author’s fascination with these illnesses is clearly portrayed on every page, as well as her depth of research. I cannot say enough superlatives about this book – it is far and away the best work I’ve read this year.  If you are a devotee of disease, you will treasure this work forever.  And for those of you who are not – please still read this. You will learn, you will be shocked, and you will appreciate the fragility of life.

Pick up your copy here.

CATCHING BREATH by Kathryn Lougheed

With more than a million victims every year–more than any other disease, including malaria–and antibiotic resistance now found in every country worldwide, tuberculosis is once again proving itself to be one of the smartest killers that humanity has ever faced. But it’s hardly surprising considering how long it’s had to hone its skills. Forty-thousand years ago, our ancestors set off from the cradle of civilization on their journey towards populating the planet. Tuberculosis hitched a lift and came with us, and it’s been there ever since; waiting, watching, and learning.
The organism responsible, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, has had plenty of time to adapt to its chosen habitat–human lungs–and has learned through natural selection to be an almost perfect pathogen. Using our own immune cells as a Trojan Horse to aid its spread, it’s come up with clever ways to avoid being killed by antibiotics. But patience has been its biggest lesson–it can enter into a latent state when times are tough, only to come back to life when a host’s immune system is compromised. Today, more than one million people die of the disease every year and around one-third of the world’s population are believed to be infected. That’s more than two billion people. Throw in the compounding problems of drug resistance, the HIV epidemic, and poverty, and it’s clear that tuberculosis remains one of the most serious problems in world medicine.
Catching Breath follows the history of TB through the ages, from its time as an infection of hunter-gatherers to the first human villages, which set it up with everything it needed to become the monstrous disease it is today, through to the perils of industrialization and urbanization. It goes on to look at the latest research in fighting the disease, with stories of modern scientific research, interviews with doctors on the TB frontline, and the personal experiences of those affected by the disease.

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, the research and science are excellent and multilayered. You can easily discern the love the author has for tuberculosis and how to contain it. On the other hand, some of her attempts at humor and lightening the mood seemed out of place to me. A reader who is not familiar with pop culture may find some of her sentences confusing – such as:

“Basically, in some settings, the machines are just sitting there like big ugly espresso machines that no one really knows how to use. Even if someone does get the urge to brew some coffee, George Clooney has used the last cassette and not put in a new order”.

I would be totally immersed in the science aspect and she would throw something like that in there from time to time. It seemed as if she was attempting to lighten the serious subject up with these humorous asides, but it just didn’t work for me.

There are a lot of facts and statistics about TB, which are staggering when you stop to consider how many people have been, and are, suffering from this disease. Certainly TB doesn’t get the airtime of, let’s say, AIDS or cancer – but its presence is still felt daily in places like Africa or India. I hadn’t realized how prevalent it still is, or how stricken these countries are.

The writer goes deep into the origin of TB and the different ways scientists are trying to defeat it. It’s a canny bacteria, though, and has the ability to mutate or take advantage of other sicknesses in the body. After reading CATCHING BREATH, I know more about TB than I ever have; from the obvious to the minutiae, the author gives us everything she’s got. I definitely appreciate her effort but the writing style was at times too dry, too broadly humorous or too rambling. Maybe a bit of editing would do the trick? In any case, don’t avoid this book if you are a fan of diseases – just be prepared for a little strangeness. You will be educated, amazed, and humbled by this tenacious germ.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”1472930347″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

 

 

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