SHORT HISTORY OF DISEASE: Plagues, Poxes and Civilisations

SHORT HISTORY OF DISEASE: Plagues, Poxes and Civilisations

SEAN MARTIN    Book Number: 88282    Product format: Paperback

Short but fact-packed, with a good bibliography for further reading, this concise history of disease is highly readable. In the ancient Greek world the Asclepius cult relied on belief in miraculous cures, but the Hippocratic revolution of the 5th century BC, the high point of Greek civilisation, dispelled many superstitious myths, emphasizing observation and rational solutions. There are parallels with Chinese medicine of the same period. As the Roman Empire came to an end in the 6th century AD, the first of the great pandemics took hold: the Justinian plague, a bubonic disease spread by flea-infested black rats. When it returned as the Black Death in the mid-14th century, the death rate was at least 30%, possibly a lot more, and an immediate effect of that pandemic was the invention of quarantine which is still a tried and tested method. A 17th century killer was yellow fever, carried by mosquitoes particularly in the packed conditions of slave ships. At the end of the following century there was a huge breakthrough when Edward Jenner noticed that a mild dose of cowpox protected people from the deadlier smallpox and as a result vaccination was invented. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu caused a minor stir in London society by having her four-year-old inoculated. The next problem for the industrialised world was water-borne cholera, probably originating in the Ganges and spread through the British Empire. A hundred years later the Spanish flu pandemic and other infections surged through the field hospitals of World War I. The author also considers conditions such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and new diseases such as AIDS. 320pp, paperback, glossary. Full price.
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ISBN 9781843444190
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