Disease and Epidemics, Essay Example
Disease is something many scientists spend much of their lives trying to identify and cure. It is something in which scientists use all of their energy to find a problem, state a hypothesis, and study in order to find a solution to save many lives. John M. Barry and Jared Diamond both had similar yet differing ideas about disease: where it came from, how it was contracted, and how it was to be cured. Their understanding of disease, how people responded to disease and their own disciplines were different yet still remained a part of each other in a sense.
Jared Diamond, in his book Guns, Germs, and Steel explains that disease comes from agriculture and the human population. He states that the more people stay in one place such as farmers, the more likely people are to contract some type of disease. This is due to the fact that wanderers or “hunter-gatherers” frequently move from one place to another leaving their own piles of feces with accumulated microbes behind. However, farmers do not traditionally move around a lot. Therefore, they live around their own sewage constantly. In this instance, they are more prone to infect the people that live closest to them in the forms of drinking water and many other sources such as disease transmitting rodents. Diamond also believed that disease was due to the rise of cities. He states that before the population sustained in the 20th century, the immigration of healthy peasants was necessary due to the constant amount of deaths of the city dwellers. He also states that the development of trade routes had an effect on disease as these provided “one giant breeding ground for microbes” (205). After these trade routes were developed, smallpox finally reached Rome and killed millions of Roman citizens. Unfortunately, this led to different assumptions of how people contracted disease. Diamond states that crowed infectious diseases often come from the things we adore the most – our domesticated animals and pets. For example, “the close similarity of the measles virus to the rinderpest virus suggests that the latter transferred from cattle to humans and then evolved into the measles virus by changing its properties to adapt to us” (206). In all reality, Diamond believes that diseases come specifically from dense human populations, trade and agriculture, and the domesticated animals and pets that many owned then. John M. Barry in his book The Great Influenza agrees with some of this to an extent. Barry and Diamond both give credit to nature in their findings of disease, either by animals or plants, any living organism to be exact. Barry wrote that many believed that crowd disease was contracted by humans, air, breathing, and hand-to-mouth contact. Barry also relates disease from chickens to humans. He explains, “the influenza outbreak in 1997 in Hong Kong, when a new virus jumped from chickens to humans, killed only six people and it did not adapt to man.” (250). However, “more than a million chickens were slaughtered to prevent that from happening” (Barry 250). Barry also tries to explain the process of the respiratory tract by comparing it to a tree. Since most disease are contracted by the oxygen that we breathe and the human contact we experience, Barry wanted to help us understand the system. Barry’s main goal in understanding disease was to figure out where it came from, how we, as humans, were about to contract it, and how it was to be cured. On the other hand, Diamond explained to us where disease came from and did not focus so much on the solution for it.
The responses of the people were quite different in each case. For Diamond, it was a general concern, but not one that could be clearly focused on based on the fact that it was just a “common” thing. Diamond felt that if people were to live around feces, animals, and deal with trade, it was inevitable that disease would spread. The people felt this way and understood this as well and there was not a huge emphasis on finding a cure. In Guns, Germs, and Steel, we see that Diamond and others ask many questions, but do not seek to find a sound conclusion or answer to those questions. This is not the case with Barry and his book The Great Influenza. In this book, we read that many prominent scientists are working tirelessly to find a cure for the infectious disease. We see these scientists making hypotheses, testing those hypotheses, and attempting to find a cure for the disease. They work tirelessly in order to figure out what the problem is and find a solution to it. Many people, including the scientists, within the book are frantic for a cure, frantic for something to take place that will save their lives. However, no matter how hard many worked, they were not able to find one. Certain vaccines that they came up with worked for certain diseases and helped ease some people. However, many wanted a cure for influenza if that was really what it was. When people think of disease, they often do become frantic just as the citizens in this book. It’s common. It’s nature. But, many scientists would not give up until they found a cure.
The discipline of each author is rather different. Diamond puts emphasis on where the infectious diseases come from and gives us a detail description of how immigration, animals, agriculture, and trade are all factors in contracting a specific infectious disease. Diamond does not necessarily speak of a cure or even a hypothesis of a cure for these diseases. Yet, he emphasizes where they come from and how they are contracted from one person to the other. Barry, on the other hand, has a very different idea of disease and the discipline in which he uses to explain the topic. Barry provides the reader with the actual account of the incidences. He makes it as if it is real life for us as the readers. He explains, in full detail, the diseases that he talks about throughout his book. These diseases include pneumonia, syphilis, and influenza to name a few. However, though he puts emphasis on how the diseases are contracted, he puts more emphasis on how to cure these diseases. He explains how scientists work tirelessly in order to find a cure for all of them while in the process of trying to figure out where influenza came from and how scientists battled to find a cure. A lot of his book is about finding the cure for such diseases and trying to find out how to help others rather than giving us gruesome details about each disease as Diamond does. Barry also uses real-life stories to make the reader feel as if they are in the middle of the epidemics. He uses experiences from military members, citizens, doctors, nurses and many other in order to give us an idea that it happened to everyone and that everyone could be affected by the disease that they were trying so hard to figure out. All in all, their disciplines differ because they focus on different aspects of disease. One focuses on the disease in particular and the other focuses more on the cure.
In conclusion, the reader has the ability to learn a lot from both authors in reference to disease in the early days as well as how we look at disease in our time. Jared Diamond portrays an image of disease by discussing how it is contracted, how we suffer from it, and what things could be done to avoid it to some extent in his book. John Barry gives us many examples of the many disease in the 1900’s and allows us, as readers, to see what it was like through the eyes of his interpretation. He works to explain diseases in general, focuses on one specific disease and how it has affected the lives of millions and gives us an idea of what it was like to live during that time. Barry shows, through tireless effort, just how badly scientists wanted to find out what was killing so many people so that they could find a cure for it. Cures for diseases are always going to be sought. We are still looking for cures for cancer, for AIDS, and for so many other diseases. Yet, we do not seem to be getting anywhere. The Great Influenza by John M. Barry shows us that there are scientists that are truly trying to find cures and it is quite possible that, with their effort, we will be able to cure some of these diseases that are killing so many of our people.
Barry, John M. The Great Influenza. New York: The Penguin Group, 2004. Print.
Diamond, Jared. Guns, Germs, and Steel. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2005. Print.
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