Multispecies epidemiology and the viral subject

Authored by: Genese Marie Sodikoff

The Routledge Companion to the Environmental Humanities

Print publication date:  January  2017
Online publication date:  January  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138786745
eBook ISBN: 9781315766355
Adobe ISBN: 9781317660194


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In August 2014, an acute outbreak of the bubonic plague hit Madagascar. It quickly spread from the northern town of Amparafaravola along roadways and southwest into the capital, Antananararivo. Many international readers were no doubt surprised that this medieval blight still existed and had the potential to balloon into an epidemic. Online accounts of Madagascar’s plague outbreak depicted grisly pictures of dead rats and heaps of uncollected trash in the capital, connecting the dots for readers between rodents, urban squalor, and lethal disease. I was interested in the outbreak not only for humanitarian reasons, having done anthropological work in Madagascar over the past twenty years, but also because I had embarked on a new project on zoonosis and land degradation around a giant industrial mine along the island’s rainforest escarpment. I am now collecting stories about two diseases, the bubonic plague, transmitted by rats and vectored by fleas, and rabies, spread most commonly by wild animals to pet dogs and cats, who in turn infect people. These stories tell of viral subjects caught in a downward spiral of bodily and ecological health.

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