Infection

The Uninvited Universe

By Gerald N. Callahan
(St. Martin's Press, Hardcover, 9780312348465, 304pp.)

Publication Date: November 28, 2006

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Description

Gerald Callahan, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Immunology and the Public Understanding of Science with appointments in the departments of Pathology and of English at Colorado State University—the first person at the university to hold such a joint appointment. He is the author of over fifty academic articles and two books (River Odyssey, an essay collection about exploring Colorado, and Faith, Madnessand Spontaneous Human Combustion, an essay collection about the immune system). He has also published numerous poems and essays in reviews around the country and has appeared on National Geographic television and ABC national news. He has won awards for his scientific and literary writing and teaching. He lives in Fort Collins with his wife and three dogs. We use antibacterial soap to wash our hands. We swab our doorknobs and phones with antibacterial wipes. We pop antibiotics at the first sign of disease—all because of our fear of infection. But we are all infected. From before birth until after death, infection is what makes us human. Veteran immunologist, essayist, award-winning scientist, and author Gerald N. Callahan explores our infectious world to reveal incredible discoveries in the study and treatment of infectious diseases: —Infection plays a significant role in many chronic ailments, including schizophrenia, gastric ulcers, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. —Physicians are successfully treating gastrointestinal and other human diseases by infecting their patients with parasitic worms. —Antibiotic overuse and a false sense of security have led to the resurgence of several diseases we thought were conquered and have created new threats. Infection is an informative look at the microorganisms that ensure our health and sometimes take it from us. For better or worse, infection shapes our lives. "The good, the bad and the ugly in the world of infection, introducing the microorganisms that are essential to life, those that complicate it and those with the potential to destroy it. Callahan praises the beneficial germs that inhabit us and surround us. To those bent on sterilizing their surroundings in the interest of health—thanks to Pasteur, we have come to think of germs as the enemy—he offers some startling facts: Over 90 percent of the cells in our bodies are bacteria, and even that remaining ten percent contain bacteria. Having informed the reader of the key role played by bacteria in the evolution of mankind and in our continued well-being, he moves on to the darker side. When the balance between our host bodies and their resident microbes is disturbed, immunological diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease, result. And while most bacteria are benign, there are rogues to contend with. Infectious diseases, which include anything caused by a bacterium, a parasite, a fungus, a virus or a prion, are the leading cause of death in developing countries, and the leading cause of illness in developed countries. While antibiotics were once thought to have conquered infectious diseases, Callahan reminds the reader of the havoc still created by respiratory infections, diarrhea, tuberculosis, malaria and measles, and he notes the emergence of AIDS, SARS, mad-cow disease and the West Nile virus. Of the coming pandemic of influenza, he says, 'We are standing in the path of a firestorm we can do nothing about, not even imagine.' In the author's view, it is not a question of if, but of when. Add to this the threat of bioterrorism utilizing anthrax, plague, ricin and whatever else genetic engineering concocts, and the story becomes dark indeed . . . [H]uman-interest stories and vivid accounts of historic events enliven his text."—Kirkus Reviews "Microbiologist-pathologist Callahan has compelling news. Only about 10 percent of the cells of a human body can be called human. The remainder are bacteria. This is a good thing, for without these bacteria, we would surely die. It is the vastly underrated microbiotic system that sustains and even enables life. Lacking a complete set of healthy bacteria allowing us to digest food and fend off illness, individual existence would be impossible. Largely responsible for strengthening the immune system, these good germs ought to be sought after and nourished, Callahan says. Pointing to a number of illnesses, from asthma to acute lymphoblastic lymphoma, that can be at least partially linked to a lack of exposure to certain bacterial infections, Callahan makes a case for lackadaisical housekeeping. Not so sloppy as to foster the germs that deliver infectious diseases such as malaria, AIDS, SARS, or influenza, however, any of which might deal the ultimate blow that cleanses the planet of humanity. Callahan writes of an at-times unpleasant topic in clear, reader-friendly language."—Booklist

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