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When Germs Travel: Six Major Epidemics That Have Invaded America and the Fears They Have Unleashed
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When Germs Travel: Six Major Epidemics That Have Invaded America and the Fears They Have Unleashed

3.75 of 5 stars 3.75  ·  rating details  ·  118 ratings  ·  19 reviews
The struggle against deadly microbes is endless. Diseases that have plagued human beings since ancient times still exist, new maladies like SARS make their way into the headlines, we are faced with vaccine shortages, and the threat of germ warfare has reemerged as a worldwide threat.

In this riveting account, medical historian Howard Markel takes an eye-opening look at the
Paperback, 288 pages
Published May 10th 2005 by Vintage (first published May 11th 2004)
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K. Bird
I opened up When Germs Travel thinking I'd get a more general description about disease, vectors, bacteria, and how human culture influences transmission.

(Obviously I didn't read the subtitle)

What I got was even more interesting, and heart-breaking.

Markel tells the stories of Tuberculosis, Bubonic Plague, Trachoma, Typhus, AIDS and Cholera all through the lens of the immigrant experience.

The two stories that really hit me were the story of Haitians with AIDS caught behind barbed wire at Guantana
When Germs Travel is a wonderful journey into medical anthropology, documenting six major epidemics that have struck the United States as a result of immigration: tuberculosis, trachoma, typhus, bubonic plague, cholera, and AIDS. Markel looks compassionately upon how abysmal homeland conditions and travel conditions exacerbated these epidemics, as well as how the American reaction to the epidemics resulted in policy changes throughout the last century.

It's a fascinating read, and it leaves the
With current events what they are, it is interesting to read how the world reacted to historical outbreaks of disease. It certainly gives one perspective.

I especially enjoyed the chapter on the typhus "outbreak" in my hometown of El Paso, Texas around the turn of the 20th century. The majority of deaths that can be laid at the feet of this local outbreak had nothing to do with the disease itself but the fact that people crossing the border into the US from Mexico had a disturbing habit of bursti
David Wen
Interesting background regarding how US treated various disease, epidemics, and ultimately immigrants in the 19th and 20th century. The lack of knowledge and how far we've progressed since them is fascinating and yet disheartening at the same time.
When Germs Travel takes a look at 6 epidemics: bubonic plague, typhus, trachoma, HIV, tuberculosis and cholera that arose in the US in the past century or so. If you read a lot of medical history, much of the information will be old news. What may not be, however, is Markel's analysis of the role that immigrants have played in bringing illness across national boundaries, and more importantly, how much undeserved blame is laid at their feet when epidemics do strike. Markel is a fine writer; he is ...more
Jan 30, 2015 Sarah added it
Love the history provided of both the germ/disease, the places where the epidemic took place, and the lifestyles and hardships of immigrants both in their home country and upon their arrival in the US. The personal stories showed how strong and proud the individuals were and continued their battle even after they became ill.
Margaret von Fizzlewick
I especially enjoyed the chapter on the typhus "outbreak" in my hometown of El Paso, Texas around the turn of the 20th century. The majority of deaths that can be laid at the feet of this local outbreak had nothing to do with the disease itself but the fact that people crossing the border into the US from Mexico had a disturbing habit of bursting into flames when doused with kerosene, which border officials believed would kill the disease. And I suppose it a way. A bit drastic, though.
Well-written and incredibly insightful as to the threat (and often misplaced blame) of world epidemics. Entirely recommended.
Here are six fascinating stories of invasive diseases (to U.S. borders, that is) and how authorities endeavored to cope: TB, plague, trachoma, typhus, AIDS, cholera. Most engaging is the author’s personal account of involvement with a cholera scare in Detroit in the late 1990s. Though diseases described are now largely contained in the U.S., many (even those not of the six) remain worldwide dilemmas never to be completely conquered.
This book feels more like an examination of the attitudes America holds and has held towards immigrants and disease than the diseases themselves, although there is a lot of information on the diseases. While each chapter acknowledges the public health issues of the various diseases, they also focus on how racism, ignorance, and a lack of compassion effect the immigrant communities blamed as carries for the diseases.
Diane Henry
Via Rene Najera
I read this late at night, then didn't sleep worrying how to avoid getting TB. Not as worried about bubonic plague, typhus or cholera . . . but the TB chapter kept me awake! I will no longer shake hands with anyone, wash my hands obsessively, stay away from anyone with a cough. In fact, I think I'll never leave my home. That's the answer.
Mar 23, 2008 Cecily rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Cecily by: Ryan
This was really interesting as it combined immigration and medical anthropology. Of course every time I read about diseases I start worrying about every heart flutter, dry eye, itchy leg, etc.

The author does a great job of informing and providing the stories that make medical anthropology interesting. His writing style is clear.
Broken into several readable chapters, each with their own study of a disease, location, and ethnic group different from each other, yet with the common theme of nationalism against the 'other' the author's final chapter is a humble, semi humorous warning of the dangers of 'knowing too much' (or thinking you do anyway).
A very readable series of vignettes about different epidemics in America. With a view to the historical, it gives a better understanding of the present and the future of contagious disease in the US.

a good warning against the complacency americans can have re. infectious disease.Also an overview of how disease has influenced prejudice and impacted immigration in us history. Very interesting
Chole Allyson
This was a great book. I was able to see a disease progress through the eyes of an immigrant. I followed their story and felt as though I were a part of it.
It's not as nail-biting as the title would have you believe. Interesting stuff, particularly the bits on disease etiology and progression, albeit kinda dry.
Man am I a sucker for a microhistory; chalk it up to the insatiable consumption of knowledge.
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Howard Markel, M.D., Ph.D., is the George E. Wantz Distinguished Professor of the History of Medicine, professor of pediatrics and communicable diseases, professor of psychiatry, and director of the Center for the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan. His books include the award- winning Quarantine! and When Germs Travel. His articles have appeared in The New York Times, The New Engla ...more
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