Book Review: Rabid—A Cultural History

Rabid dog

By Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy

The full subtitle of this book neatly encapsulates its theme and tone: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus. Note that it identifies itself not as a general or scientific history, but as a “cultural” one. This is an accurate descriptive; for truly, few diseases known to humanity have branded themselves into our collective psyche and culture so widely, so deeply, and for so long; and as something not merely organically deadly but infernally so, and thus profoundly to be feared. (The few others that even come close include leprosy and polio.)

Though shelved in the non-fiction area of your library or bookstore, Rabid spins a series of tales and observations that could have come from the fictional horror story pen of Stephen King. It is at once fascinating and terrifying. The authors, a husband-and-wife team, are eminently qualified to write such a book. Wasik is a magazine editor who writes about science and technology; while Murphy is a veterinarian with a degree in public health. Together they have put together the definitive “biography” of the rabies pathogen. Continue reading “Book Review: Rabid—A Cultural History

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Rabies in Popular Culture

Count Dracula

It may seem odd to associate such a horrific and deadly disease as rabies with “popularity.” It is anything but! Yet since prehistoric times that is exactly how humankind has dealt psychologically with our most memorable tragedies and primal fears: by telling stories about them and depicting them in our art. This is the very essence of “whistling past the graveyard,” as the old phrase goes.

In last month’s article about rabies we wrote:

The term rabies comes from a Latin word meaning “madness.” Surely that is one of the reasons this pathogen has always inspired so much fear: for in the process of killing its host, it first destroys the mind, which is the seat of an individual’s personality. Indeed, some of the most familiar and frightening horror creatures in popular culture—vampires, werewolves, and zombies—are derived from mythologies that harken back to the days when a normal, healthy person could be suddenly transformed into a raving, drooling monster just from the bite of a maddened beast.

That inspired us to explore some of the ways that the rabies virus has historically staked a claim in our cultural collective conscious. Continue reading “Rabies in Popular Culture”

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

PSA: A New Pet Disease Even Scarier Than Rabies Rears Its Head

Wild marten with rabies

Pet tags on collar clip ringsThose little metal pet rabies tags you attach to your dog or cat’s collar are much more than jingling baubles. Rather, they are shining insignia that represent one of humankind’s great victories over a centuries-old scourge.

The annals of recorded medical history are dotted with numerous spectacularly terrifying diseases and pandemics. Some of the most notable include:

  • The Antonine Plague of 165 A.D., which killed some 5 million people and decimated the Roman army. It is believed to have been a smallpox or measles epidemic, brought back to Italy by soldiers returning from Mesopotamia.
  • Bubonic Plague—better known as the Black Death of the Middle Ages—a deadly bacterial infection, spread by fleas and rats, that ravaged three continents and took an estimated 200 million lives.
  • The Flu Pandemic of 1918, which was a perversely lethal strain of influenza that tore across the globe and struck down an estimated 50 million otherwise healthy, robust young adults.
  • HIV/AIDS, which has racked up a combined death toll of 36 million worldwide since it appeared on the scene in 1981.

Continue reading “PSA: A New Pet Disease Even Scarier Than Rabies Rears Its Head”

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

The Importance of Pet Rabies Tags

Medieval woodblock print - rabid dog
Woodcut from the Middle Ages depicting peasants fending off a rabid dog [source]
The primary responsibility of any pet owner is to make sure their animal stays happy; and the best way to do that is to keep it safe and healthy. For that reason, a pet ID tag for your dog or cat (attached to the collar, along with microchipping for added protection) ensures a speedy return home if it gets lost. In addition, a rabies tag indicates that your pet has been vaccinated against a frighteningly deadly—yet easily preventable—disease.
Continue reading “The Importance of Pet Rabies Tags”

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter