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Beasts of the Earth

Animals, Humans, and Disease

E. Fuller Torrey and Robert H. Yolken

Publication Year: 2005

Humans have lived in close proximity to other animals for thousands of years. Recent scientific studies have even shown that the presence of animals has a positive effect on our physical and mental health. People with pets typically have lower blood pressure, show fewer symptoms of depression, and tend to get more exercise.

But there is a darker side to the relationship between animals and humans. Animals are carriers of harmful infectious agents and the source of a myriad of human diseases. In recent years, the emergence of high-profile illnesses such as AIDS, SARS, West Nile virus, and bird flu has drawn much public attention, but as E. Fuller Torrey and Robert H. Yolken reveal, the transfer of deadly microbes from animals to humans is neither a new nor an easily avoided problem.

Beginning with the domestication of farm animals nearly 10,000 years ago, Beasts of the Earth traces the ways that human-animal contact has evolved over time. Today, shared living quarters, overlapping ecosystems, and experimental surgical practices where organs or tissues are transplanted from non-humans into humans continue to open new avenues for the transmission of infectious agents. Other changes in human behavior like increased air travel, automated food processing, and threats of bioterrorism are increasing the contagion factor by transporting microbes further distances and to larger populations in virtually no time at all.

While the authors urge that a better understanding of past diseases may help us lessen the severity of some illnesses, they also warn that, given our increasingly crowded planet, it is not a question of if but when and how often animal-transmitted diseases will pose serious challenges to human health in the future.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

This book is about human infectious diseases and the microbes that cause them. As the recent resurgence of AIDS, tuberculosis, and infl uenza has shown, infections are still major causes of illness and death in our society. We are also discovering that infectious agents may play a role in many chronic ailments such as cancer, heart disease, and schizophrenia. ...

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Chapter One: The Smallest Passengers on Noah’s Ark

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pp. 1-13

Human diseases that are transmitted from animals are big news. Consider, for example, the following items reported in the United States during a single month, June 2003: 79 cases of human monkeypox, spread by pet prairie dogs; 7 cases of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) among the 8,398 cases worldwide, ...

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Chapter Two: Heirloom Infections: Microbes before the Advent of Humans

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pp. 14-22

If there ever was a Garden of Eden, it certainly was not free from disease. Adam may have been carrying the herpesviruses that cause cold sores and shingles, and Eve could have had hepatitis B. Mosquitoes in the garden may have been carrying the microbes that cause malaria and yellow fever. ...

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Chapter Three: Humans as Hunters: Animal Origins of Bioterrorism

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pp. 23-32

Early hominids had little contact with animals other than themselves. The ancestors of Homo sapiens, after breaking away from other African apes approximately six million years ago, subsisted on a diet mostly of insects, fruits, and leaves and apparently did little hunting of animals. ...

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Chapter Four: Humans as Farmers: Microbes Move into the Home

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pp. 33-47

Nobody fully understands why humans domesticated crops and farm animals when they did. Changes in climate are only part of the explanation. Perhaps the continuing evolution of the human brain also played a role, allowing people to plan ahead and work together in ways that had not previously been possible. ...

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Chapter Five: Humans as Villagers: Microbes in the Promised Land

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pp. 48-55

Paleolithic hunters were remarkably isolated. For hundreds of thousands of years, they lived in small, extended family bands, often moving seasonally to follow the migrations of animals they hunted. According to Karlen’s Man and Microbes, the hunters “lived in bands of probably a few dozen, perhaps a hundred at most, ...

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Chapter Six: Humans as Traders: Microbes Get Passports

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pp. 56-67

For millions of years, microbes that were attached to mammals traveled neither very far nor very fast. Most hominids and other animals spent their lives in relatively circumscribed areas, and when they eventually migrated out of Africa, they traveled slowly. ...

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Chapter Seven: Humans as Pet Keepers: Microbes Move into the Bedroom

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pp. 68-96

During the ten thousand years since humans began domesticating animals, we have kept them primarily to supply our material needs. Their meat, milk, and eggs have been our major source of protein; their wool, skins, and fur have been our most important sources of clothing; and until the invention of the gasoline-powered engine, ...

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Chapter Eight: Humans as Diners: Mad Cows and Sane Chickens

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pp. 97-111

Humans have been infected with animal microbes since we first began to eat animal meat in the Paleolithic period. Paleolithic man acquired many animal macroparasites, such as taenia and trichinosis, as well as bacteria that cause such diseases as brucellosis, tularemia, and glanders. ...

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Chapter Nine: Microbes from the Modern Food Chain: Lessons from SARS, In. uenza, and Bird Flu

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pp. 112-123

That animal microbes can be transmitted to humans when humans eat the meat, milk, or eggs of infected animals is widely known. Less widely known is that animal microbes can also be transmitted to humans as a consequence of the modern food chain. ...

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Chapter Ten: The Coming Plagues: Lessons from AIDS, West Nile Virus, and Lyme Disease

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pp. 124-138

In 1969, the bar of human hubris was raised significantly when William H. Stewart, surgeon general of the United States, announced: “The war against infectious diseases has been won.”1 Considering that bacteria, viruses, and protozoa had a more than two-billion-year head start in this war, a victory by recently arrived Homo sapiens would be remarkable. ...

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Chapter Eleven: A Four-Footed View of History

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pp. 139-144

Homo sapiens has had a peculiar history. For almost a million years, we wandered the world as hunters, living in small groups but creating no permanent civilizations. Then, approximately ten thousand years ago, we domesticated plants and animals; in the following eight thousand years, we created city-states, monuments, centralized governments, ...


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pp. 145-170


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pp. 171-172


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pp. 173-174


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pp. 175-190

About the Authors

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E-ISBN-13: 9780813537894
E-ISBN-10: 0813537894
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813535715

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2005