UCSC Review Winter 1996
Alumna Laurie Garrett (B.A., Biology; Merrill '75) is author of The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance
For 40 years, the majority of scientists and medical professionals hailed modern medicine as having all but conquered infectious disease. The United States had nearly vanquished malaria by the early 1960s. The industrial world had almost eliminated tuberculosis by the 1970s. Other diseases seemed to be succumbing.
The complete conquest of viruses and microbes could not be far off. Or so it seemed.
Taking stock of the multitude of emerging or reemerging diseases, scientists today know that microbes--far from being eradicated--pose an unprecedented threat to human health.
Laurie Garrett is among those sounding the alarm. Her book, The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance, is a comprehensive and almost encyclopedic look at a multitude of diseases that have emerged or reemerged worldwide over the last three decades. Its subjects range from malaria, cholera, and newly discovered viral hemorrhagic fevers, to Legionnaires' disease, toxic shock syndrome, and AIDS.
Since its publication in October 1994, the 750-page book has received widespread acclaim. Newspapers and journals from the New York Times to the New England Journal of Medicine have published favorable reviews, and the San Francisco Chronicle hailed the book as "the clearest, most detailed and most impeccably researched description of the science of microbiology that lay readers have had since Paul de Kruif's Microbe Hunters of 60 years ago."
A science and medical writer for Newsday who also worked for National Public Radio and as a freelancer in southern Europe and East Africa, Garrett spent more than a decade researching the book. "In my travels overseas I could see diseases that I thought had been conquered were in fact killing children right and left," Garrett said. "The first time I saw a child dying of measles, I learned the folly of ever describing any disease as minor or eradicated."
Instead, rising population densities, the advent of jet travel, environmental destruction, and changing social mores are among the many factors exacerbating the emergence and spread of disease.
Garrett wrote The Coming Plague as a wake-up call to the world.
"I'm trying to sound an alarm that warns people at all levels of society, regardless of their work or what they do, that far from defeating the microbes, we face a whole new force of microbial threats," she said. "There are things that can be done to mitigate the crisis, or cut it off entirely, but they require collective action, government-based action, even international action."
A sample of the solutions Garrett recommends: an international effort to monitor the outbreak and incidence of communicable disease; data banks for identifying viruses; the training of additional scientists for fieldwork at the site of an outbreak; mobile infectious-disease hospitals that can be airlifted to the scene of an epidemic at a moment's notice; an international campaign to provide sterile syringes; and a commitment to provide better general education to all segments of the world's population.
This year, UCSC awarded Garrett the Alumni Achievement Award, the highest honor the Alumni Association bestows on a graduate of UCSC.