Article ID: CBB511114157

Historical Epidemiology and the Single Pathogen Model of Epidemic Disease (2022)


Pre-existing medical conditions and co-infections are common to all human populations, although the natures of the pre-existing conditions and the types of co-infections vary. For these reasons, among others, the arrival of a highly infectious pathogenic agent may differentially affect the disease burden in different sub-populations, as a function of varying combinations of endemic disease, chronic disease, genetic or epigenetic vulnerabilities, compromised immunological status, and socially determined risk exposure. The disease burden may also vary considerably by age cohort and socio-economic status. The social consequences of infection, the medical sequelae, and the paths of recovery from infection may also vary, according to these variables. As a result, different sub-populations may have different experiences of a disease process, including when and how an epidemic comes to an end.This essay suggests that historians' engagement with path-breaking biological and medical anthropological research will allow new approaches to understanding disease processes that will enrich the study of epidemics and their endings. It is organized in three sections. The first discusses some general approaches to and assumptions about epidemics that are used by many historians. The second introduces new perspectives on the study of historical epidemics opened up by the medical anthropological concept of syndemic disease interactions and by an engagement with biological scientific perspectives. It briefly discusses two rural epidemics-one of anemia caused by the syndemic interaction of hookworm and malaria co-infections in early 20th-century British Malaya, and the other of rebound infections caused by the loss of acquired immunity to falciparum malaria in mid-20th-century Liberia-that illustrate, respectively, the utility of the concept of syndemic disease interactions and the centrality of immunological status in understanding epidemic outbreaks in these discrete populations. The third section addresses some of the research considerations involved in moving beyond the single pathogen model of epidemic disease.

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Authors & Contributors
Gaudillière, Jean-Paul
Löwy, Illana
Mendelsohn, J. Andrew
Brown, JoAnne
Creager, Angela N. H.
Zylberman, Patrick
Social History of Medicine
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences
Journal of World History
Medical History
História, Ciências, Saúde---Manguinhos
Palgrave Macmillan
Boston University
University of California, San Diego
Fordham University Press
University of California Press
Public health
Medicine and society
Disease and diseases
Chagas, Carlos
Andrade, Mário de
Langmuir, Alexander
Grmek, Mirko Drazen
Sri Lanka
United States
Republic of Liberia
20th century
19th century
20th century, early
21st century
20th century, late
World Health Organization (WHO)

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