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Maxime Schwartz, François Rodhain

Microbes or Humans: Who Will Be the Winner?

Ever since Pasteur, humans have known what makes them ill. Successively, the microbes that are responsible for different diseases have been observed, cultivated and used to inoculate; in some cases vaccines have been developed. This book recounts the story of the struggle against microbes — but since each microbe behaves differently, each one requires a fresh approach.

In the 1960s the widespread use of antibiotics and vaccines led people to believe that the war against microbes had been won. The eradication of small pox was proof that vaccines worked. But the growth of international travel on a large scale has led to the development of new microbial diseases such as BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy), avian flu and, particularly, AIDS. In addition, numerous strains of microbes have become resistant to antibiotics.

Does this mean that we must go back to square one and that the struggle against microbes will never end? The authors try to answer these two questions, on which the survival of humanity depends.

After explaining how humanity won the first battle against microbes, this book tells us why the outcome of the second battle now being waged remains uncertain, due to the development of new viral diseases and of a large number of antibiotic-resistant microbes. The authors, who are both renowned experts from the Institut Pasteur (one specialises in the molecular biology of microbes, the other in microbe behaviour), argue that this may well be the biggest threat for the future of humanity. They argue that only a rigorous policy of prevention and of research can save us. And they explain why it is crucial to continue following the old rules of hygiene and sanitation.

This book raises some burning contemporary issues in the wake of such epidemics as AIDS, BSE and avian flu.

Maxime Schwartz is the author of Comment les vaches sont devenues folles. He is a molecular biologist and a former director general of the Institut Pasteur.

François Rodhain is an entomologist and has taught at the Institut Pasteur.