Now where were we?
Ah yes, rats (three fleas on the average black rat) and bubonic plague so perhaps first I'd better issue a health warning.
If you happen to be one of those people ( and there is no shame in this, there are many of you) who read about a disease over breakfast, by lunchtime are convinced that you have it and by dinner you can't face food because it's obvious you won't live much longer, then this might not be the best book for you.
Even if a bout of bubonic plague is seeming most unlikely, no Xenopsylla cheopsis (rat flea) to your certain knowledge has regurgitated its stomach contents containing 25,000 bacteria into your bloodstream, and you have no excruciatingly painful buboes ready to rupture (hope you're not eating porridge) that you are aware of, really no amount of reassurance from Dorothy Crawford or I is going to help if you are that way inclined, just don't read Deadly Companions, How Microbes Shaped Our History.
Meanwhile the rest of us can just plunge headlong into this fascinating cauldron of disease and putrefaction and emerge so well-informed that you'll wonder how you've managed this long without knowing it all.
If it crawls, flies, wriggles, squirms or just plain magics itself through the air the whole disease trail is mapped out down the ages, and though I'll admit I got slightly bogged down in the early epidemiology sections( but plenty of you will eat all that up easily) I soldiered on because I knew there would be glorious treats in store and I wasn't disappointed as you can tell already.
I am now a bulging buboe of disease information, stick a needle in me and I could give you the lot.
In those days when I worked (now seeming like many light years ago) I had within reach of my right hand something called The Spotty Book. This was a real face-saver, a sort of vade mecum to cope with the myriad phone calls I would get about florid rashes and incubation times and can you get shingles from someone with chickenpox (no) and might this be scabies(possibly) and waaaaaahhhhhh we've found head lice. I might have sounded like I was reeling it off out of my head but in fact I would be frantically rummaging for the disease in my Spotty Book for fear of muddling my Parvovirus B 19 with my Coxsackie or my Impetigo with my Erysipelas.
Dorothy Crawford moves in a much bigger world than rural Devon and chapters like Microbes Go Global, explaining as it did quite what happened when crowd disease microbes hit the Americas, made for a succession of 'did you know' moments.
Did you know for example that most microbes jumped from domestic animals to humans but the Americans were such efficient hunter-gatherers that very few animals remained to be domesticated, just the odd turkey, couple of guinea pigs, few llamas, one or two alpacas, none of which transmit too much of note.They were reasonably disease free until the Europeans arrived and shared so generously causing a 90% decrease in Native American population over the next 120 years.
That's staggering because there had been 100 million of them to start with.
The background to the history of disease transmission should by rights be quite deadly boring but not in the hands of Dorothy Crawford with this informative quote from 1547,
' The cause of these impediments or infyrmytes doth come many ways, it maye come by lyenge in the sheets or bedded there where a pocky person hath the night before lyenin, it maye come with lyenge with a pocky person, it may come by syttenge on a draught or sege where as a pocky person did lately syt, it may come by drynkynge oft with a pocky person, but specially it is taken when one pocky person doth synne in lechery the one with another.'
Don't say you haven't been warned.
Our anaesthetist friend John Snow gets a mention for tracing the 1854 London cholera outbreak to the Broad Street pump which is probably a good time to mention that a prize copy of both Deadly Companions by Dorothy H. Crawford and Blessed Days of Anaesthesia by Stephanie J.Snow up for grabs today from Oxford University Press. Names on the operating list in comments and we'll lance the boil choose the two winners once it's come to a head eventually.