There’s nothing arbitrary about an epidemic.While each disease is the product of a chain of accidental genetic shifts, the process that turns a novel infection into a devastating outbreak is as much social as biological. The vast majority of new conditions will die out before they spread beyond a handful of people. Only rarely will one exploit the fault lines of our social order to rampage through the entire human population.“Epidemic diseases are not random events that afflict societies capriciously and without warning. On the contrary, every society produces its own specific vulnerabilities,” medical historian Frank M. Snowden wrote in his recent book, Epidemics and Society. As a result, studying disease is a way of understanding “society’s structure, its standard of living and its political priorities,” he wrote.AIDS found a fertile environment to spread thanks to the homophobia and puritanism of 1980s America, and in medical conspiracy theories that later swept parts of Africa. Cholera in the 19th century seized on cities whose populations had boomed without building the basic sanitation needed to provide safe drinking water. Smallpox from the 16th to the 19th centuries laid waste to Indigenous populations in the New World, giving colonial powers the chance to take… Read full this story
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