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Price-Smith Publishes ‘Plagues of Affluence’ Essay

Political Science Associate Professor Andrew Price-Smith recently published an essay titled "The Plagues of Affluence: Human Ecology and the Case of the SARS Epidemic" in the Oxford journal Environmental History.

In his essay, Price-Smith, chair of the Political Science Department at Colorado College argues that infectious disease is not simply a product of conditions of poverty because the mutability of pathogens allows them to thrive in multiple niches throughout human ecology. Consequently, certain conditions of affluence may actually contribute to the proliferation of certain diseases such as the virulent coronavirus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Price-Smith writes. He warns that these so-called "plagues of affluence" represent a challenge to global health that is largely unaddressed. Besides SARS, there are many diseases that are now thriving in the "sanitized ecologies" of the wealthy nations, ranging from MRSA and VRE to entirely novel classes of microbes that are now emerging.

Price-Smith notes the SARS epidemic of 2002-03 as a case in point. "The SARS coronavirus exhibited properties of a 'jet-set' disease as it spread among the affluent population centers of East Asia and then leapt to Canada," he states in the essay. "The SARS coronavirus took advantage of changes in the relationship between its natural hosts and the human ecology of East Asia and then spread via posh hotels, jet airliners, and technologically advanced hospital environments. Its proliferation in Hong Kong, Singapore, Beijing, and Toronto illustrates the principle that wealthier nations are not removed from the destructive effects of the novel agents of communicable disease. Indeed, such nations exhibit vulnerability to a range of pathogens that flourish under conditions of affluence and technological sophistication."

He also writes that "SARS failed to become firmly established in the frequently open air and relatively low-tech hospital environments of Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand. It appears that the virus could not adapt as readily to such environments and thus did not establish a critical foothold in those less enclosed medical ecologies."

Price-Smith is author of several books including "Oil, Illiberalism, and War" and "Contagion and Chaos; Disease, Ecology and National Security in the Era of Globalization" which won a Choice Magazine Award for Outstanding Academic Volume of 2009, and "The Heath of Nations" He has testified on climate change, disease, and international security before the U.S. House Science and Technology Committee, and acted as advisor for the World Bank, U.S. Director of National Intelligence (DNI), and the US Department of Defense.

Environmental History, a quarterly, interdisciplinary journal that carries international articles that portray human interactions with the natural world over time, is published by Oxford University Press.

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