One of the great success stories of the twentieth century unfolds in this readable history of the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of infectious diseases. The author, a physician who participated in some of the advances he describes, offers fascinating insights into the events that led from medical discoveries to the seemingly miraculous relief experienced by patients suffering from infection.
Just a lifetime ago bacterial diseases—among them influenza, pneumonia, diphtheria, tuberculosis, meningitis, and even plague—were leading causes of death in America. Syphilitics filled mental hospitals, and epidemics of typhoid fever were far from rare. Yet today, death from infectious diseases is almost uncommon. Harry Dowling tells how a group of lethal organisms were disarmed through improvements in public health, the development of increasingly effective immunization, and the revolutionary discovery of antibiotics. But this is more than just a story of laboratories and hospitals; it is an account of the social forces that came into play as radical changes were wrought in patterns of human health and disease.
As Dr. Dowling makes clear, the battle against infection is far from won. “Neither the ‘magic bullets’ of chemotherapy nor the ramparts of vaccination have stopped the inexorable march of the microbes,” he writes. “The war must go on forever, and we can only gain or hold ground by relying on our past experience.”