Friday, June 3, 2011

EHEC and the history of emerging diseases since 1600

Following the news about the outbreak of EHEC infections and looking for relevant podcasts, I found that I had just been listening in the past weeks to a very relevant series of history lectures.

A little over a month ago Yale published a 2010 course Epidemics in western society since 1600 in which Professor Frank Snowden takes us through the past centuries with great inflictions such as Plague, Asiatic Cholera and the Spanish Flu that suddenly emerged and left their mark on history, as well as endemic diseases that had their epidemic and pandemic waves such as Small Pox, Malaria, Polio and others. In addition to the medical background and the medical history around these and other epidemics, Snowden also looks at the effects on society, cultural as well as political in how the diseases were perceived and what were the reactions especially in the field of public health measures and the (scientific) quest for cures. (feed)

Along the way we meet interesting and unknown figures such as the German scientist Max von Pettenkofer (lecture about Contagionism versus Anticontagionism) who, unlike the much more famous Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch, did not believe in germs and was proven wrong in his life time. Snowden's lecture shows how Von Pettenkofer, in spite of having the wrong theory about Cholera, as was shown, still made a tremendous contribution to the fight against the disease and you somehow learn to appreciate the anticontagionistic ideas about disease.

As the series closes in on the present and Snowden lectures about SARS, Aviatic Flu and Swine Flu, much of what we witness today with EHEC appears on the scene.

I was thrilled by this series and once started I couldn't stop listening until I had finished. 26 academic hours of very informative and very engaging matter that, as it turns out, in case I had not already realized it before the EHEC outbreak, is extremely relevant in current affairs. Aside new afflictions, such as this mutated strain of E.coli, I was especially struck by the impact of Malaria, which is still rampant today. Eventually the whole series carries but one shining triumph: the eradication of Small Pox. Other than that we still face the old diseases as much as we face the new ones.
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