Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The American Plague

The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, the Epidemic that Shaped Our History by Molly Caldwell Crosby was originally published in November 2006. My hardcover copy, including the text to the index is 308 pages. I've had The American Plague on my wish list since it was originally published and it was with great relish that I started this nonfiction book. You know how I am about plague books... Crosby's book lived up to my expectations. It is by no means an exhaustive look at yellow fever over the years, however, it really is a concise introductory account of yellow fever. The information was very nicely researched, compiled, and presented. Crosby also has included an epilogue, an exhaustive section of notes, a bibliography, and index. This is a very highly recommended book. Rating: 4.5 Now, I must research how one becomes an epidemic psychologist.

Book Description from Publisher:
The American Plague delves into America's not-so-distant past to recount one of the greatest epidemics of our time. It tells the story of the yellow fever epidemic in Memphis, Tennessee-one that would cost more lives than the Chicago fire, San Francisco earthquake and Johnstown flood combined-and, it is a narrative journey into Cuba and West Africa, where a handful of doctors would change medical history.

Yellow fever, a virus born of the slave trade, struck 500,000 Americans over two centuries touching every state from Texas to Massachusetts. It paralyzed governments, halted commerce, quarantined cities and altered the outcome of wars. It was not only the gruesome symptoms of the disease-much like those of Ebola today-but the long-term, crippling effect on a place and its people that made it such a dreaded disease and one that the federal government could not ignore.

In 1900, the United States sent three doctors led by Walter Reed to Cuba to discover how this disease was spread. Camped on sprawling farmland just outside of Havana, they launched one of history's most controversial human studies. Two of the doctors would be infected; one would die. Two-dozen men-veterans of the Spanish-American War-would volunteer to be test subjects.

Tragic and terrifying, The American Plague beautifully depicts the story of yellow fever, and its reign in this country. A story that, in the end, is as much about the nature of human beings as it is the nature of disease.

Quotes (not for the weak stomached):

"It hit suddenly in the form of a piercing headache and painful sensitivity to light, like looking into a white sun. At that point the patient could still hope that it was not yellow fever, maybe just a headache from the heat. But then the pain worsened, crippling movement and burning the skin. The fever rose to 104 maybe 105 degrees, and bones felt as though they had been cracked. The kidneys stopped functioning, poisoning the body. Abdominal cramps began in the final days of illness as the patient vomited black blood brought on by internal hemorrhaging. The victim became a palate of hideous color: Red blood ran from the eyes, gums and nose. The tongue swelled, turning purple. Black vomit roiled. And the skin grew a deep gold, the whites of the eyes turning brilliant yellow." pg. 2

"Yellow fever is what is known as a flavivirus, a group of viruses spread by mosquitoes that include West Nile, dengue and Japanese encephalitis." pg 9

"...but 100 years later, scientists would link El Nino to most major outbreaks of yellow fever." pg. 13

"And the tale of the Flying Dutchman is thought to be the story of a yellow-fever-infected ship repeatedly denied port until all on board perished of the fever, and the ship was forced to sail endlessly, manned by a ghost crew..." pg. 40

"When a scourge of this magnitude strikes, the minds of people, against all rational thought, look for a reason. Modern-day epidemic psychologists have described a total collapse of conventional order- fear pervades..." pg. 53

"In modern times it's hard to understand the mentality that would lead a soldier into knowingly risking his life for the purpose of medicine....From the time of the American Revolution through World War I, a soldier knew his odds of dying from dysentery, cholera, typhoid, smallpox, influenza, or yellow fever were greater than those on the battlefield, so volunteering for human experiments might not seem as much of a psychological departure as it would today." pg. 173

"Yellow fever is listed among the pathogens that might be used during a bioterrorist attack." pg. 234

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