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Taming Infection: The American Response to Illness from Smallpox to Covid, by Gregg Coodley and David Sarasohn

“A clearly written, information-rich guide to the impact of infectious diseases on the United States and our responses to each of them. Coodley and Sarasohn demonstrate how science and public health have had to counter fear, ignorance and hubris-along with the microbes themselves-in battles that reached a desultory climax with our misbegotten reckoning with Covid-19.”
Arthur Allen, author, The Fantastic Laboratory of Dr. Weigl

“The book is a timely and urgent reminder that the battle against deadly infectious disease must be relentless. It celebrates our victories without losing sight of the horrendous human toll exacted, and it warns us that we repeat the mistakes of the past at our own peril.”
Stephen Coss, author The Fever of 1721: The Epidemic that Revolutionized Medicine and American Politics

Infection has written its own history of the United States, terrifying, sickening and killing more Americans that all the nation’s wars put together. Taming Infection is the story of fifteen of the worst diseases to strike the United States throughout our history and how Americans brought them under control.

Some of these diseases now are associated only with far away lands. Yet, at one time, malaria afflicted most of the United States, even infecting multiple Presidents.  Plague struck in San Francisco, and cholera and typhoid in New York.  Diphtheria was once the great killer of American children, while smallpox infected, but luckily did not kill, both Washington and Lincoln.  Thoreau, Hawthorne, Poe and Eleanor Roosevelt died from tuberculosis. Yellow fever shut down the Federal government in the then capitol of Philadelphia, forcing Alexander Hamilton to flee to an involuntary quarantine.  Al Capone would succumb to syphilis while his nemesis, Eliot Ness, led the campaign against the disease in the American army in WWII. More modern afflictions, including the influenza, AIDS and Covid-19 pandemics, reminds us that infections still punish and terrify Americans.

Sadly, Americans often first reacted to these calamities with ignorance, bizarre therapies and scapegoating of minorities.  Protests against vaccines predated the American Revolution, while the Anti-Mask League was formed in 1918, not 2021. Yet Taming Infection is also the story of triumphs and heroes, in medicine and public health and among ordinary citizens, that helped the United States vanquish, or at least tame, these deadly maladies. Each disease has carved its own mark in American history and among Americans; some are still carving.

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