Encyclopedia of Pestilence, Pandemics, and Plaques
Author: Greenwood Publishing Group
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This encyclopedia of infectious diseases in history grew out of a proposal for an encyclopedia of the Black Death that followed two volumes I wrote for Greenwood Press on the second plague pandemic. Greenwood’s editors were correct to suggest a much broader, interdisciplinary work, given that existing works on the history of epidemic disease tended to be either chronological or topical by disease, or topical by place. Given the opportunity, I engaged a truly first-rate editorial board of medical historians, M.D.s, a microbiologist, and medical history librarians. With their indispensable help, I crafted a list of entries that would take the nonspecialist advanced high school or college student from the basics of bacteria and viruses, through the intricacies of the human body and immunity to disease, to the major infectious diseases (and some others of growing relevance). Historical outbreaks constituted a second category of entries. We chose the major pandemics of plague, influenza, and cholera, of course, but we also included more tightly focused outbreaks that allowed for a closer analysis of the phenomena, their impacts, and the ways people dealt with them. A third major group of articles, we felt, needed to discuss the range of care-giving and treatments that developed independently of or in response to the great disease outbreaks. Physicians, nurses, pharmacists, hospitals, leprosaria, sanatoria, as well as sulfa drugs and antibiotics found their places in these pages. Related to these entries are those outlining major theories of disease and medicine that dictated cultural responses to epidemic disease. Desiring to be synthetic as well as specific in coverage, we decided to commission a series of longer entries on historical (and contemporary) factors that have affected the emergence and spread of epidemic diseases. Some of these are natural (air, water, the environment) but many are social, economic, and political: colonialism, war, poverty, urbanization, and the sexual revolution, for example. A final broad category covers effects or responses to disease, including media and artistic responses, international health organizations, and effects on personal liberties. We chose these categories and topics with a view to both the basics and to geographical and chronological diversity. We make no claims of completeness or comprehensiveness but do hope that we have provided a variety of materials that will stimulate and aid research, both informing and leading the reader to other fruitful sources. To aid internal searching, we have provided an alphabetical list of all entries in the front matter, as well as an index at the end of Volume 2. Each entry includes a list of related entries under “See also,” while terms with their own entries that appear in the text are boldfaced for easy identification. Arcing across the nearly 300 articles are certain themes that should serve a student well: colonialism, war, the development of Western medicine, the roles of migration and modern globalization, and the continuing plight and challenges of much of the underdeveloped world in the face of established and emerging diseases. We have chosen some of these themes and grouped relevant entries in the Guide to Related Topics that follows the List of Entries in the front matter. Entries have been written and edited for use by students with minimal backgrounds in biology, and a glossary of predominantly biomedical terms has been appended. Each entry has a list of suggested readings, and many have useful Websites. A broad bibliography of Websites, books, and articles appears at the end of Volume 2. In acknowledging my own debts to those who made this work possible, I would like to begin with the 101 authors from around the world who lent this project their time and expertise. The outstanding credentials of our editorial board members—Ann Carmichael, Katharine Donahue, John Parascandola, Christopher Ryland, and William Summers— are listed elsewhere, but let me assure the reader that without their contributions from conception to final editing, these volumes would have but a fraction of their merit. Each has gone well beyond any contractual obligations, each in his or her own ways, and any and all flaws are mine alone. Greenwood Press has provided me with a very helpful and supportive editor in Mariah Gumpert who has overseen this work from start to finish. I also wish to acknowledge the local efforts of Sarah Bennett, who developed the illustration program for the encyclopedia, Rebecca and Elizabeth Repasky who compiled the glossary and edited portions of the text, and Elizabeth Schriner who gathered many of the Website citations scattered about these pages. Finally, I wish to thank Belmont University, my home institution, for providing me with the academic leave and many of the means necessary to pull this project together. In War of the Worlds, English novelist H. G. Wells presented the gravest of imaginable threats to human life on earth: bellicose extraterrestrial invaders. Humanity laid prostrate, our weapons useless, our future bleak. The final outcome reflected Wells’s genius as well as his time: simple terrestrial germs killed off the mighty aliens, and the war was won. What caused humans mere mild discomfort proved fatal to the beings whose bodies were not prepared for the microbial onslaught. Of course, this has long been part of the human condition on our own planet. Epidemiologists call this phenomenon a “virgin-soil epidemic,” and throughout history human populations have lost their battles with “simple terrestrial germs.” Plague killed perhaps 40 percent of the Western world in the late 1340s; Mayas and Aztecs fell by the tens of thousands to the measles and smallpox brought by European colonists; and in the nineteenth century, Africa’s pathogen-rich environment earned it the fitting nickname “white man’s graveyard.” We literally swim in a sea of germs, and our bodies are coated inside and out with a wide range of bacteria, viruses, mites, fungi, and other tiny hitchhikers. Most are benign, many helpful, and some potentially harmful. But add the wrong microbe into the mix, and the mighty human organism, like Wells’s Martians, shudders and halts—and may shut down altogether. When these microbes can be transmitted to other people, we call the resulting illnesses infectious disease. When the same disease extends across a broad population, we call it an epidemic. Anthropologists generally agree that humans became susceptible to epidemics when we settled in large villages and early cities in the later Neolithic period of human prehistory. Our own “war of the worlds”—the human organism vs. deadly microorganisms—has thus been going on for thousands of years, and until recently we have unvaryingly lost. And although modern science has reduced many former scourges to minor threats, we remain locked in mortal combat with many—both old and new—and in apprehension of the next wave of pathogenic assault. The founders of the scientific method noted that we have to understand nature and its processes before we can control them, but knowledge about microbes came very recently and still does not ensure victory. Thirty years before this writing, scientists, policy-makers, doctors, volunteers, nurses, donors, and civil servants finally eliminated deadly smallpox from nature. But though it was the first, it is still the only human disease to be eradicated, despite the best intentions and efforts of experts, technicians, officials, and men and women of good will. Each year the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention monitor the fluctuating incidence of a long list of diseases and the lives they take. Old standards such as malaria, tuberculosis, and polio beef up the statistics, as do recent arrivals such as AIDS, Lyme disease, and West Nile Fever, and reemerging conditions such as cholera and Hansen’s disease (leprosy). Footnotes account for the patterns of flux: wars, changing economic and social conditions, new encroachments on virgin natural areas, human migration, and natural processes such as genetic mutation and environmental change. Through jet travel, a minor, local outbreak of an exotic disease can find its way into dozens or hundreds of human communities within days. The “war” is far from over. There is an ongoing flow of books that tell the story of “man vs. microbe,” or narrow parts of it, and many of these are listed at the end of entries or in the bibliography at the end of these two volumes. These serve the general reading public as well as the historian and student of medical history. The present work cannot replace a ripping good medical yarn, and its editor and his collaborators have no intention of trying to do so. Instead we seek to place in the hands of the interested lay reader or student a collection of thoughtstimulating and question-answering essays that will complement deeper research or merely provide accurate, condensed information to the curious. The fact that sites on the Internet seem capable of doing just this may seem to make a work like ours, or any reference book, rather quaint and clumsy by comparison. In fact, each of our contributors has taken the Web, as well as other publications, into account in preparing the present articles. The result is a sound, authoritative source covering a very wide and interdisciplinary range of topics connected to the history and science of infectious disease. As I edited each entry and added the bolding to cross-listed terms, and compiled the “see also” lists, I was struck by and increasingly satisfied with the rich texture of interrelationships among the entries. Each reader, each student preparing to write on a relevant topic, should make use of the several tools that we have provided to help one profit from this texture. Each entry mentions related entries and provides recent or classic books and/or articles on its topic. The List of Entries—and, even better, the Guide to Related Topics—goes further in suggesting relationships between subjects. The index gives a quick overview of topics that go beyond the entry titles, and provides a clear gauge of the depth of coverage in these two volumes. The types of discussion that fall under the broad heading of infectious disease are far more varied than may first seem evident. If I consider my senior year in high school, I can imagine using this volume in English Lit (seventeenth-century plague literature); U.S. History II (Spanish Flu in 1918 to 1919); Advanced Biology (any given disease); fourthyear German (Thomas Mann and his tuberculosis); and Religion (comparative religious theories of disease). At the other end, our essays on topics such as “News Media and Epidemic Disease,” “War, the Military, and Epidemic Disease,” “Colonialism and Epidemic Disease,” or “Urbanization and Epidemic Disease” could spawn and help shape senior or even masters-level university theses. Teachers preparing units or professors preparing courses on medical history or disease in history will find our content stimulating and relevant, and, we believe, written at a level appropriate to our students. As I stated in the Preface, this work is by no means comprehensive or definitive, nor is it meant to be. If the reader is patient and systematic, however, I firmly believe it will prove to be very useful indeed.