Yellow Fever: A Deadly Disease to Kill Again

James Dickerson presented one of his greatest works YellowFever: A DeadlyDiseasePoisedtoKillAgain. This book is usually called a historical one but I would preferably call it a medical tale, historic-medical narration, or a book of medical history. This book is full of historic data and medical terms, so it makes a reader believe that all the events are real. James Dickerson tells about the most feared disease in the US. He starts from 1793, and tells us about what has happened when the illness occurred in America for the first time. He finished his story focusing on the present and concluding that this disease could be a potential weapon of terrorists. Also, he emphasizes that this disease could reintroduce in the United States soon.

James Dickerson is an author of twenty nonfiction books. He has written a lot of articles about health. James Dickerson is an outstanding journalist and surely, his journalistic skills and background help him to adapt this book for a common reader. A reader can easily understand this book nonetheless it is full of medical terms and data. The style of this book is nonscientific, although, I am sure that deeper analysis and extra research can make it scientific. Yellow Fever: A DeadlyDiseasePoisedtoKillAgain is written according to real facts and history of the United States. In eight chapters, James Dickerson not only chronicles the events of the period when the disease occurred in Philadelphia with 28 000 residents, but he also describes how it impacted numerous American cities and people during 19th and beginning of 20th centuries. This book is surely challenging, eye-opening, and it deserves a detailed analysis.

The story starts with describing the illness in the USA. First four chapters are devoted to such places as Philadelphia, Mississippi, New Orleans, and Memphis. In each chapter, the author tries to tell us more about each city. As an example, we can take a quotation from the first chapter about Philadelphia: “As the nation’s first capital, Philadelphia was home to President George Washington during both of his terms, and it was the meeting place for Congress” (Dickerson, 2006, p.3). The author tells us that there was an unknown disease in the country; no one knew how to treat it and what caused it. Near 4000 citizens died of it, and what was more interesting, Afro-Americans seemed to be immune to this illness. The unknown disease was characterized by fever, nausea, and coma. The author did not mince words describing how the disease could ravage the body mentioning its dreaded symptoms. The lack of knowledge made people do different things to prevent the spread of disease including burning clothes. Though, the disease was progressing until the first frost came, this time the illness has always come to the end:

“The truth could have been found buried in an amalgamation of the theories then offered to the public-standing water, swarming insects, the arrival of ships from the Caribbean with disease-carrying “foreigners” – but at that time, each possible cause had its own group of staunch defenders, and it would be more than one hundred years before the cause was pinpointed” (Dickerson, 2006, p.14).

In this chapter, we could also find a lot of information on political situation at that time: sociopolitical facts or narrations that help us to understand that period of time better, and deepen our knowledge about atmosphere in the country in a whole.

The fifth chapter describes a war between Spain and America when a lot of American soldiers died from this disease. People were still searching for reasons of this disease until it was finally found. Mosquitoes were the cause of yellow fever, and they transmitted it through biting people. James Dickerson gives a detailed description of spreading the illness and measures of controlling a disease. Also, there are great examples of people who contributed a lot in treating this disease; these people are William Gorgas, Juan Carlos Finlay, and Walter Reed. Dr. Juan Finlay was a person who concluded in 1881 that mosquitoes spread the yellow fever. His conclusion attracted Dr. Walter Reed’s attention, so they started to look for preventative measures of this illness. In the narration, we also meet an outstanding person who invented a vaccine from yellow fever and was awarded with a Nobel Prize. His name is Max Theiler. It is a pity that he is not described enough in the book; the description takes only 2 pages. He provokes interest in reader’s minds, and personally, I want to know more about him.

Next chapter is not dedicated to decease; it concerns infections in general, and the possibility of using them as a weapon. The author states that it could be the most dangerous mass destruction weapon if it is in the hands of terrorists. He describes the potential danger of this kind of weapon and provides a lot of arguments to prove it.

The seventh chapter gives a good overview of global warming, and describes yellow fever as an emergent illness. He calls it “the largest yellow fever epidemic in the nation’s history” and “the worst in American history” and points out that this problem is of great importance for the humanity and it should be solved immediately (Dickerson, 2006, p. 37, 94, 153). According to the author, global warming provokes the spread of yellow fever and other viruses carried by mosquitoes. This chapter was really interesting for me because there is a comparison of a yellow fever, dengue viruses, and West Nile. All these tropical diseases are spread by mosquitoes and can be a real threat for the humanity.

The final chapter is entitled “The disease that will not go away,” and it is based on the future of decease and community. It describes tragic situation in Africa and America, areas where this disease is epidemic. Also, the author describes horrible cases when tourists were not a properly immunized so they were infected being in one of those areas. These are very depressed facts because such situations still happen despite our knowledge of effective vaccine from this illness. Also, this character is full of accurate information presented by Ned Hayes; he was a scientist and physician at the US Disease Control Centre and could provide a lot of precise data. Nowadays, such a variety of facts provides us with an accurate presentation of infection diseases. To my mind, yellow fever can hardly be used as a weapon because millions and millions of mosquitoes are needed for spreading the disease. Even after infection of a particular amount of people, it would be extremely hard to keep the continuation of the disease. However, we cannot ignore such things as a chance or fortune; thus, anything could happen. Dickerson finishes his book with an idea how global warming could cause reintroduction of this disease in the USA. I suppose that the risk of reintroduction of the illness in the US is higher that the risk of using yellow fever as a weapon, and it could be a real environmental threat for the humanity. This process depends on global warming that is not controlled by people. The higher temperature becomes, the more chances for transmitting a yellow fever by mosquitoes exist. No one knows whether we should take this threat seriously, but personally, I think that we should. Fortunately, we know enough about this disease now, and there are vaccines available, thus, the risk of epidemic is extremely low. Today, this illness can be controlled by vaccination or preventing mosquitoes’ bites by using special anti-mosquito sprays. Nowadays, we have to do everything possible to eliminate this problem and reduce environmental threats for our community.

In general, this book is based on historic and medical background and experience of many scientists and doctors. Despite this, it is not too boring or overloaded with medical terms. In the book there is an exact amount of accurate data and precise information as it is needed, not more and not less. Also, James Dickerson provides us with such current events as global warming, climate and peculiarities of culture and population. Such a situation makes the book interesting for a reader without tiring him. The author makes us believe his words and the story based on historical background. In this book, James Dickerson makes an illuminating comment about the need for American doctors to be better educated it terms of yellow fever. It could not be considered as a comment only about a particular disease. The general idea of his words was that doctors should develop their knowledge continuously, as well as deepen their cognition of illnesses and their symptoms. Surely, I cannot judge doctors and their knowledge, but such comment will stimulate them not to stop and always go further.

I really like the mystery of the narration in this book. The reader is left with questions until the last chapters. The disease and its symptoms are described, the atmosphere is shown, but it remains unexplained what kind of disease it is and how it can be transmitted. Also I enjoyed reading some personal stories in this book; they gave true heart and soul how people were affected by the illness. A good example of such a story could be the diary of the girl in Memphis, Belle Wade. I consider these stories as one of the best parts of the book. Through such narrations author helps a reader to understand what it was like to find oneself in the midst of a yellow fever epidemic.

Yellow Fever is a real challenging and worth to read book. It convinces people to pay more attention to such problems as global warming, tropical diseases, and health control measures. I am sure that there is a need to pursue laws that can control emission of greenhouse gases and take this issue as one of the most serious nowadays.

This book should be interesting for a person who likes to read about global warming or diseases. If someone is interested in yellow fever itself, this book is great for him/her because it is full of precise and detailed information about the disease. Also, it could impress a history student who would like to know how the yellow fever influenced the US nation. This book is a “must read” for any person who cares about his health and the historical background of the country. Reading this book you can also deepen your historical knowledge as it has happened with me. For example, I did not know that Memphis was named after an Egyptian town on the Nile. I would strongly recommend reading this book not as an entertainment tale, but as an informative and educative narration that could develop your knowledge of the US history. I am sure you will not waste your time and will find a lot of useful information in this book. Surely, it is worth reading.

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