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By David Clark

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This point is an excerpt from Germs, Genes, & Civilization: How Epidemics formed Who we're Today (9780137019960) by means of David P. Clark. on hand in print and electronic formats.


Why it’s wishful pondering to think that illnesses will finally evolve into milder forms--and what the not easy fact capability for humanity.


Earlier pondering held that, given time, all ailments could adapt, to develop into no worse than measles. Virulent illnesses have been novices, no longer but tailored to organic détente with their human hosts. This wishful considering has noticeable advertising appeal--but it ignores the gruesome part of either evolution and human history.

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A highly virulent epidemic may wipe out a substantial portion of the human population. This decreases crowding, which, in turn, selects for a decrease in virulence. Ultimately, you might think, a balance will be struck and both the population density of the host and the virulence of the infectious agent will settle down to a gentlemanly compromise. This is the microbiological version of the famous “balance of nature” myth. But instead of reaching a state of stable equilibrium, periods of population growth generally alternate with devastating epidemics.

Chinese records illustrate this effect. D. , 234 outbreaks were severe enough to count as plagues—that’s one every seven years. Although not every epidemic covered all of China, the frequency is impressive. Bubonic plague provides a nice example of a disease whose virulence oscillated. Beginning in the mid-1300s, repeated epidemics of bubonic plague swept across Europe until the 1600s (later in some places). When plague first reached a town or city, the first few cases were usually mild and the victims recovered.

Clark Earlier thinking held that, given time, all diseases would adapt, to become no worse than measles and mumps. Virulent diseases were newcomers, not yet adapted to a state of biological détente with their human hosts. This viewpoint sees man and his infections in a perpetual cold war, with casualties due only to occasional misunderstandings. This wishful thinking has obvious marketing appeal and still frequently appears in books and articles that popularize biology. This scenario ignores the ugly side of both evolution and human history.

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Crowding and Disease Virulence by David Clark

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