Epidemics – Books & Movies

The Betrayal of Public Trust and The Coming Plague by Laurie Garrett http://lauriegarrett.com/

She explains how medical investigators figure out the causes of epidemics.

She describes how we need a public health system and a disease surveillance system. She also notes along with Paul Farmer, Jim Kim, and Ophelia Dahl and the other founders of Partners in Health, the need to treat all people, especially to provide options for the poor. If we do not treat the sick people in Africa, Russian jails, and the South America, both those people will suffer and diseases will grow and spread from there. Where many people are sick and are given incomplete and varying doses of antibiotics, the bacteria develop resistance. Similarly, some of the AIDS drugs both are not available to the poor and do not cure AIDS, but just prevent the bad effects. Sometimes people do not use condoms, and AIDS spreads. In the US, some young people think AIDS is cured, so they engage in unprotected sex. In South Africa , large fractions 15% to 26%) of the population get AIDS. So we need changes in behavior and culture so that people use condoms and don’t spread it. She also relates like a thrilling story the way that people investigate a disease outbreak. First they notice an unusual rise in similar symptoms. Then they have to figure what the sick people have in common. They have to determine what causes it- a parasite, a bacteria, a virus, a retro virus, some radiation leak from some pollution,… They have to figure out how the disease is transmitted – fleas on rats, worms in the ground or the water, poop of a bird, bite of an infected mosquito, urine aerosolized by sweeping the dirt floor, . .. Then what is the solution? And what was the cause? In one example, cutting down the trees to make a plantation displaced the rats from the forest, so they moved into town, where sweeping the dirt floors of the housed spread their urine into the air, where people inhaled it. Then cats were introduced to rid the huts of rats and the disease. Sometimes we do not figure out what caused an outbreak.

Adventures of a Female Medical Detective by Mary Guinan She fights smallpox and AIDS, and helps to figure out that a disease originates from in the contaminated tubes of an army emergency room.

Plagues and People by William H McNeill -a history of infectious diseases, Mentioning the bubonic plague in China, typhoid epidemic in Europe, and smallpox in Mexico. He explains how people discovered that some diseases were caused by the the human sewage, because they occurred in cities which had their water intake downstream from the sewage outflow. Another disease was traced back to everyone who used a certain polluted water pump in London. Milkmaids were resistance to pox from their exposure to cow pox. The French then inoculated their army with cowpox and were able to be much healthier. Earlier theories had guessed that diseases were caused by a fog or a cloud.

Parasite Rex and A Planet of Viruses by Carl Zimmer These show how prevalent parasites, virueses, and bacteria are. It is amazing how many parasites are inside birds and clams. They are part of the ecosystems. Some people’s asthma goes away if they get parasitic worms. Some think that humans and other species evolved with parasites and almost need them.

Six Modern Plagues by Jerome Walters Mad Cow Disease, HIV/AIDS, Salmonella DT104, Lyme Disease, Hantavirus, West Nile, and new strains of flu. He shows that they originate from manipulation of the environment, from emitting carbon and clear-cutting forests to feeding naturally herbivorous cows “recycled animal protein.”

Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the WorldTracy Kidder. “The book traces the life of physician and anthropologist Paul Farmer with particular focus on his work fighting tuberculosis in Haiti,Peru and Russia.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountains_Beyond_Mountains

Some movies about epidemics:

movie “Contagion” where Laurie Garrett was an advisor




“28 Days Later”


And the Band Played On (1993) “the real story of epidemiologists trying to make sense of mysterious deaths among the gay communities” Book and movie- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/And_the_Band_Played_On

Some alien movies:


District 9 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/District_9

Monsters https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monsters_(2010_film))

a monster movie caused by pollution

The Host (2006)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Host_(2006_film)

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