Infectious by Frank Bowden

If you have any interest in public health, in contagious diseases, in the management of infection, in the development of antibiotic resistance, then this is a book for you.

Infectious by Frank Bowden

‘Today antibiotic resistance has reached a crisis across the world.’

I was drawn by the blurb on the back cover of this book: ‘A young woman’s FLU symptoms mask a rare tick infection.  A man develops SHINGLES then suffers excruciating FACIAL PAIN later in life.  After years of frustration, a family eradicates HEAD LICE forever.’

I’ve never had head lice, but I’ve known plenty of people who have.  And not one of them enjoyed it.  Discovering and treating a rare tick infection looks pretty good to me as well, but what really caught my attention was the reference to shingles and facial pain.  This is something my mother suffered from terribly at various stages in her life.

Professor Bowden has divided this book into three parts:

Part 1: The Age of Infections

Part II: The end of the Age of Antibiotics

Part III: First do no harm

There’s a lot of information in this book, delivered in a way that is easy to read and understand.  Professor Bowden reminds us that:

‘The rapid growth in international travel, beginning in the 1970s, meant that the jumbo would become as important as the mosquito in the spread of disease.’

This has become especially important where patients from the developed world, by seeking cheaper medical treatment in the developing world for procedures such as dental implants, joint replacements and kidney transplants, have ‘given resistant bugs an international passport.  It takes less than fourteen hours to fly from Delhi to Sydney with all your bugs on board.’

Part of this is a consequence of the increased use of broad spectrum antibiotics which has resulted in the emergence of highly resistant bacteria.

Professor Bowden also discusses Ebola and other viruses, the impact of diseases such as measles, mumps and rubella, the eradication of smallpox. The use and misuse of antibiotics is discussed, and I found myself wondering how many of my own antibiotic allergies or sensitivities are a consequence of frequent prescription for various childhood illnesses.

While I found the entire book interesting, informative and thought provoking, it was the last part that really made me think.  Lyme disease, chronic fatigue syndrome and prostate cancer screening are all discussed.  In part this is about self-diagnosis and about the difficulties in diagnosing when people present with non-specific complaints.  It’s also about the proliferation of diagnostic tests, which can lead to unnecessary treatment.

Frank Bowden is Professor at the Australian National University Medical School and an Infectious Disease Physician at the Canberra Hospital. His special research interest has been population health approaches to the control of infectious diseases (especially sexually transmitted infections).

If you have any interest in public health, then I recommend this book to you.  Professor Bowden raises a number of important questions in this book.  You don’t have to be a medical professional to read (and understand) the issues.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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