CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 4. . . .September 27, 2013
Do you remember this poem- or a variation of it? While chanting the verse in a singsong voice, kids hold hands and turn in a circle together. At the end of the last line, everyone drops hands and falls to the ground.
If you read the poem line by line, you will see that it seems to describe the bubonic plague. The buboes swell up and become a rosy color while the skin circling them turns into dark rings. People carried sweet-smelling posies of herbs for protection. “Husha, husha” mimics the last gasping rattle in the throat before death. Finally, the disease knocked most people down…dead!
Throughout history there have been many diseases, plagues and pandemics which have killed millions of people. This book provides an in-depth look at the various illnesses as well as the medical pioneers whose efforts helped to eradicate certain diseases and ailments. The book is divided into seven chapters and includes a table of contents, a glossary and an index. Sidebars provide additional information.
The first chapter is a general introduction to the main topic and helps readers to understand the differences between viruses and bacteria, epidemics and pandemics, and discusses the various types of bacteria. It briefly mentions some inventions which were crucial to humans’ understanding of diseases. One such invention was the microscope. Finally, this chapter focuses on lifestyle changes which can boost one’s immunity and help to prevent the spread of disease.
Subsequent chapters cover various periods in history in terms of the prevalent diseases, their causes, symptoms and cures, the superstitions and rituals associated with specific illnesses, the medical practices of the time, and the evolution of patient care. With the domestication of animals and the emergence of cities in which people lived in closer quarters, disease became more common, and during the age of exploration, the Europeans brought diseases to North America where the inhabitants had no natural immunity. Smallpox, the Black Death, yellow fever, scurvy, syphilis, cholera, tuberculosis, scarlet fever and the Spanish flu are just some of the diseases that are discussed in this book. A look back in time not only shows readers the sweeping ravages of epidemics (for instance, according to experts, the fall of the Roman Empire is attributed to either smallpox or bubonic plague), but also demonstrates the influence that epidemics had on art, music and literature. Examples include “The Pied Piper of Hamelin”, a fairytale which appeared in the years of the bubonic plague, and the tarantella, a frenzied dance which was popular in the days of the Black Death. With the discovery of antibiotics and the development of vaccines, many “modern” childhood diseases can now be prevented or greatly reduced in their severity: measles, mumps, rubella and whooping cough, to name just a few. The writers of this book are obviously pro-vaccinations, but they briefly acknowledge parents’ choice not to immunize their children. They also applaud the contributions of several medical pioneers, such as Hippocrates, Florence Nightingale who established the world’s first nursing school in 1860, Louis Pasteur, Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin, and Jonas Salk, who developed the polio vaccine. Kudos are also given to global organizations, such as WHO and UNICEF, whose efforts sought to eradicate childhood diseases. The last chapter of the book discusses more recent epidemics and their origins. HIV/AIDS, SARS, bird flu (H5N1), swine flu, and H1N1 are among those covered, as well as information about how governments and world health organizations are working together to prevent pandemics. Also mentioned are the development of the flu shot and the benefits of being inoculated.
Though the subject of this book is very serious, the mood is lightened by a couple of factors: firstly, the text is written in a rather conversational style, with plenty of myths, superstitions, and “gross” facts thrown in to appeal to the target audience; secondly, Bill Slavin’s cartoon-like illustrations often add a sense of quirkiness and humour to the text. For example, in the chapter which features the importance of positive lifestyle choices, Slavin has drawn an overweight male figure, sunbathing on a lawn chair, with a cigarette in his mouth, a soft drink in his hand, and a container of French fries resting on his ample belly. Appropriately, the man’s bathing trunks are decorated with skulls.
Fascinating, educational, and informative!
Gail Hamilton is a former teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB. All of her inoculations are up-to-date.