A groundbreaking look at the connection between germs and mental illness, and how we can protect ourselves.
Is it possible to catch autism or OCD the same way we catch the flu? Can a child's contact with cat litter lead to schizophrenia? In her eye-opening new book, National Book Critics Circle Award-winning author Harriet Washington reveals that we can in fact "catch" mental illness. In Infectious Madness, Washington presents the new germ theory, which posits not only that many instances of Alzheimer's, OCD, and schizophrenia are caused by viruses, prions, and bacteria, but also that with antibiotics, vaccinations, and other strategies, these cases can be easily prevented or treated.
Packed with cutting-edge research and tantalizing mysteries, Infectious Madness is rich in science, characters, and practical advice on how to protect yourself and your children from exposure to infectious threats that could sabotage your mental and physical health.
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.
A revelation of an important but overlooked cause of mental disorders. Very well written and engrossing.