Six Modern Plagues and How We Are Causing Them

  • Six Modern Plaques cover

  In recent years, we’ve watched droughts parch the West, heat waves claim lives, and tempests encroach on the nation’s capital. With the advent of plagues like West Nile and SARS, soothsayers have enough fodder to last until the apocalypse. But in Six Modern Plagues and How We are Causing Them, author Mark Jerome Walters takes mysticism out of the mix and points to human meddling with nature as the harbinger of disease.

Walters, a former veterinarian who is now a professor of journalism at the University of South Florida, coins the term "ecodemics" for such notorious pandemics as mad cow, West Nile and Lyme disease, citing human-caused changes in the environment as the springboards for these diseases. He traces the journey of West Nile from Africa to backyards across the nation, and argues that climate patterns resulting from global warming enabled the migration. He blames industrialized agriculture for mad cow disease, and draws a connection between the rise of Lyme disease and rapid development of the Eastern Seaboard.

Some of Walters’ culprits, like crowded cities and a jet-setting population, are difficult to reform. But others demand action, such as factory farms that pump cows full of antibiotics.

Above all, Six Modern Plagues shows that environmental issues are really human health issues — and that our assaults on nature are nothing short of slow suicide.

Six Modern Plagues and How We Are Causing Them
by Mark Jerome Walters.
195 pages, hardcover $22.
Island Press, 2003.