This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Friday, October 12, 2012

What's the Next Scary Cause of Death?

I conclude Chapter 6 on the Health and Mortality Transition with the reminder, written in 1935, from Hans Zinnser (an American-born son of German immigrants, and a Professor at Harvard) that diseases are always lurking in the shadows. This week's Economist reviews two new books speaking to that very issue: (1) "Contagion: How Commerce Has Spread Disease," by Mark Harrison (Yale University Press, to be published in America in January 2013); and (2) "Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic," by David Quammen (W.W. Norton). While the books almost certainly are good and useful, the introduction to the story is itself pretty scary:
ON OCTOBER 2nd a British traveller, flying home to Glasgow from Afghanistan, began to feel ill. Within hours he was diagnosed with Crimean-Congo Haemorrhagic Fever, a virus nasty enough for him to be put onto a military transport aircraft for transfer to an isolation hospital in London. Less than 24 hours later he was dead.
This outbreak, on top of another death last month in Saudi Arabia from a previously unknown virus, a cousin of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), has set global health agencies on edge. Ten years ago the deaths of a couple of travellers from foreign parts might not have been news at all. But the fright of the SARS outbreak in 2003 has left a lasting impression, and scientists and public-health officials now tend to see any putative disease threat through its lens.
These threats are, of course, layered on top of the deaths from meningitis that have been occurring over the past few weeks from patients receiving contaminated steroid shots. These are all reminders that despite our increasing life expectancy, we can never afford to let our guard down.

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