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Epidemics Laid Low

, 192 pages

8 halftones, 2 line drawings

March 2006



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Epidemics Laid Low

A History of What Happened in Rich Countries

Justinian's Plague, the Black Death, the Great Plague, cholera, influenza, tuberculosis, and AIDS—these diseases and others have devastated human lives and society for generations, decimating populations, creating panic, and wrecking social and economic infrastructure. In Epidemics Laid Low epidemiologist and historian Patrice Bourdelais analyzes the history of disease epidemics in Europe from the Middle Ages to the present.

This captivating account describes how populations respond to crises of disease and how authorities deal with the devastation afterward. Bourdelais discusses the successes of northern European countries in fighting and controlling infectious diseases and emphasizes, by comparison, the failures of the countries in the south. He links success to several factors: ideology of progress, economic development, popular demands to improve public health, and investment in medical research. Bourdelais studies the social consequences of these policies, the changes in the representation of epidemics, the behaviors of populations, and heightened tensions between advocates of individual freedom and those of collective interest.

Epidemics continue to threaten us today. What do our responses to these threats say about our priorities? Will the security of public health remain a privilege of a few powerful countries or will poorer countries benefit from the efforts of the rich to prevent the spread of disease inside their own borders?

Patrice Bourdelais is a professor in the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. He is head of the interdisciplinary program Medicine, Health, and Social Sciences and editor of the Annales de démographie historique. Bart K. Holland is an associate professor of biostatistics and epidemiology in the Department of Preventive Medicine and Community Health at New Jersey Medical School.

"Bourdelais covers heavily traversed grounds in public health history, though providing his own insights along the way."