"Terrifying and comforting in equal measure. Infectious Madness will inspire healthy debate and...bold new strategies for prevention and treatment."Priscilla Gilman, More Magazine
"A fascinating exploration of how common infections can affect mental illness."
Shanda Deziel, Chatelaine
"Animpressive array of technical research is presented in a readable style in Infectious Madness."
"It used to be obvious what caused mental illnessdepravity, a rotten soul, being in cahoots with the Devil. Or maybe just terrible mothering. We've escaped this primordial muck of attribution, learning that mental illnesses are biological disorders, complete with chemical and structural abnormalities in the brain, and with risk factors ranging from genes, hormones and fetal life to socioeconomic status. This superb book reviews the novel realization that infectious pathogens, and the immune system's response to them, can be risk factors for mental illness as well. The book has a broad, exciting range, considering 'contagion' in both the reductive sense, as well as an in the expansive societal manner. This is fascinating material and Harriet Washington is a great writer clear and accessible, witty, probing, and able to dissect the controversies in this field with great objectivity."
Robert Sapolsky, author of Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers
"Your views on the causes of mental illness will be forever altered when you read this profoundly humane and transformative book."
Carl Hart, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychology, Columbia University
"Infectious Madness is a fascinating book about the role of infectious diseases in mental illness. Washington challenges us to expand our view of the causes, prevention, and treatment of emotional disorders. I highly recommend it!"
Alvin F. Poussaint, MD, Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School
"With Infectious Madness, Harriet Washington sounds a much-needed alarm although not a welcome one. Turning old-fashioned germ theory inside out, she explains that we humans are the slow-moving interlopers in a world of microbes. And it's not just our health but our instincts, desires, feelings, and even our grasp on reality that are at stake."
Philip Alcabes, Professor of Public Health, Adelphi University, author of Dread: How Fear and Fan
"In Infectious Madness, Harriet Washington confirms her position as one of our most thought-provoking medical writers. Led by Washington on a whirlwind tour of early modern medicine in the 18th century, germ theory, Western anorexia, African sleeping sickness, schizophrenia, and everywhere else, we will forever be unable to think of our microbial environment in the same way. The same, for that matter, might be said of our view of the social environment in which the collective enterprise of medicine transpires."Samuel Roberts, PhD, Director, Columbia University Institute for Research in African-American Studie
Washington (Deadly Monopolies) brings her controversy-chasing style to the fringes of medical research, examining the idea that many of diseases commonly thought of as psychological ailments and treated as such are actually caused by microbial infection. Believing that acknowledgement of infectious etiology for mental illness would lead to better prevention, understanding, and treatment, Washington accuses the psychological and medical communities of adhering to a “reductionist anachronism of mind/body dualism” and being prone to the “Semmelweis reflex,” the tendency to reject paradigm shifts because they upset the status quo. She begins by discussing well-established relationships, including the connection between syphilis and its late-stage paresis, before moving on to address Susan Swedo’s work on pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcal infections (PANDAS) and studies that attempt to connect schizophrenia to a range of infections during fetal development. Washington overextends her premise to explore culture-bound diseases such as “Khmer blindness,” the functions of the enteric nervous system and its potential connection to autism, a general war on microscopic pathogens, and problems of infection in the developing world. Her sloppy scientific thinking and the vehemence with which she blames the establishment for ignoring the research into communicable mental illness make this more a political diatribe than a tale of surprising science. (Oct.)
Researchers estimate that known pathogens account for ten to 20 percent of mental illness cases. In this daring book, prize-winning author Washington (Deadly Monopolies: The Shocking Corporate Takeover of Life Itself) reviews research, historical examples, and case studies to trace the development of this new mental health paradigm. Earlier shifts from Freudian to biological theories are documented. More current research and controversies regarding the efficacy of psychiatric medications and the limitations of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) are also covered. Specific linkages between pathogens and mental disease are described, such as toxoplasma and schizophrenia; streptococci and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), anorexia, and Tourette's; and gut bacteria's role in autism. Prenatal pathogenic exposure is discussed, with the author remarking on research implicating influenza as a cause of schizophrenia. Practical advice for avoiding infection is also provided. Less convincing are cited studies on infection's role in shaping national characteristics and events such as genocide. The book concludes with a discussion of the "infection connection" in developing countries. Although the author stretches the bounds of the term mental illness, an impressive array of technical research is presented in a readable style. The title will complement others on the power of pathogens, such as Hans Zinsser's Rats, Lice, and History and Paul DeKruif''s Microbe Hunters. VERDICT Recommended for fans of science journalism and readers interested in the next "hot topic" in biological psychiatry. [See Prepub Alert, 4/13/15.]—Antoinette Brinkman, formerly with Southwest Indiana Mental Health Ctr. Lib., Evansville
A pitch for infections as a major cause of mental illness, arguing for a paradigm shift from mainstream psychiatric doctrine. Journalist Washington (Deadly Monopolies: The Shocking Corporate Takeover of Life Itself—And the Consequences for Your Health and Our Medical Future, 2011, etc.) champions the work of E. Fuller Torrey and colleagues. As a young man, Torrey was appalled when his sister was diagnosed with schizophrenia attributed to "family problems." It was a time when "schizophrenogenic mothers" were all the fashion. Torrey became a psychiatrist and started his infection-oriented research. It's unquestionable that some severe mental illness is rooted in infections—e.g., syphilis, rabies, Sydenham's chorea, the World War I flu that led to encephalitis lethargica, and, more recently, Creutzfeldt-Jakob, and mad cow disease. However, Torrey and his colleagues see infectious causality in a much wider variety of mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, bipolar disease, obsessive-compulsive disorder, Tourette syndrome, autism, and anorexia. The evidence is scant, largely based on association studies such as finding evidence of infections in blood or spinal fluid or a seasonal increase in some disorders that could be a sign of a viral infection. Furthermore, conjecture abounds. Do children really pick up the parasite Toxoplasma gondii from cat urine in park sandboxes and later develop schizophrenia? For all that infections are touted, researchers cite genetics, stress, and trauma as making a difference in whether disease will manifest. A better case is made regarding strep throat, after which a few children develop OCD seemingly overnight. In a small study, their symptoms were reversed when their blood was filtered to remove strep antibodies. In making the infectious pitch, Washington rightly argues that it strengthens the case for abandoning the Cartesian dualism that separates mind from body and leads to stigma and fear. It's acceptable to study how infection and immunity affect the brain, but only as part of a larger agenda to understand the brain in all its plasticity and complexity. Conclusion: an unproven but undoubtedly provocative case. Expect dissent and discussion.