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The message of this book

Humans typically labor under the illusion that they control their own destiny. However, I argue in this book that infectious disease has had a massive unrecognized effect on human history and culture. Moreover, constant epidemics with high death tolls have occurred throughout history and have selected major genetic alterations in the survivors. Modern DNA analysis, including the recent Human Genome Project, has revealed that alterations have occurred in certain individual genes. But many more changes remain to be discovered.

Some of these genetic alterations have mainly physical effects, but others may affect brain and behavior. For example, it is possible, though not fully proven, that genetic alterations that predispose humans to schizophrenia also protect against viral infections. As yet, the genes presumed responsible have not been identified.

Before dealing with these issues, we need to understand that many of our infectious diseases have emerged only very recently, after humans developed agriculture and settled into towns and cities (as discussed in Chapter 2, "Where Did Our Diseases Come From?"). We also need to realize that a disease's mode of transmission can alter its virulence over a relatively short period of historical time (as discussed in Chapter 3, "Transmission, Overcrowding, and Virulence").

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