Middle Grade Books About Acquired Diseases

Throughout history infectious diseases have caused widespread epidemics, killing millions at a time. Until doctors began to understand what caused disease there was no stopping them. Once they figured it out, along with an understanding of how they spread, they could get down to the business of eradicating disease. The detective work it took to bring down these biological villains is fascinating. These are the best nonfiction books on the market.

Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary by Gail Jarrow

When the wealthy Warren family contracted Typhoid Fever while vacationing on Long Island, famous epidemiologist George Soper was called in to investigate. Indicators pointed to their cook, Mary Mallon. Mary refused to be tested and eventually was arrested. As a carrier with no symptoms, she was quarantined on Brother Island for the rest of her life.

Terrible Typhoid Mary by Susan Bartoletti

During the early 1900s Typhoid epidemics were usually traced to a water supply contaminated by sewage. It was most common in the lower classes in overcrowded cities. When a wealthy family vacationing on Long Island contracted the disease, a well-respected epidemiologist was hired to solve the mystery. His investigation led him to the cook Mary Mallon. Refusing to cooperate and resisting arrest, Mary was quarantined on Brother Island for the rest of her life. 

Invisible Enemies by Jeanette Farrell

A highly readable overview of history’s most deadly diseases. The list includes Smallpox, Leprosy, Bubonic Plague, Tuberculosis, Malaria, Cholera, and AIDS. Full of examples and anecdotes. A must read for students interested in disease and epidemics.


Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio by Peg Kehret

Acclaimed author, Peg Kehret, was devastated when she contracted polio as a child in the 1930s. While in the hospital, she became paralyzed. Doctors immediately started her on exercise and heat pack therapy, which speeded her recovery. Once free of the virus, she was transferred to a rehabilitation facility where she shared a room with three other polio survivors. This is her memoir of that year.

The Secret of the Yellow Death by Suzanne Jurmaine

In the late 1890s, doctors didn’t know what caused Yellow Fever or how it spread. Army doctor, Walter Reed, got the chance to solve the mystery when the U.S. Army was stationed in Cuba during the Spanish-American war of 1898. Reed recruited volunteers who were willing to risk contracting the disease. He conducted controlled experiments and concluded definitively that Yellow Fever is spread through the bite of an infected mosquito.

More Deadly Than War by Kenneth C. Davis

In 1917 the United States entered World War I. Soldiers who went off to training camps, suddenly became deathly ill. A Spanish Flu epidemic was imminent. Ships carrying soldiers across the Atlantic were breeding grounds for disease. U.S. soldiers passed the disease to the French allies, who in turn passed it to their enemy, the Germans. In the end, it became a world-wide epidemic, killing 50 million people. 

Patient Zero by Marilee Peters

One of the priorities of epidemiologists, is figuring out the first person to get sick, otherwise known as Patient Zero. Throughout history there have been many diseases to cause widespread epidemics. This book looks at how those diseases spread and were stopped in their tracks. They are Bubonic Plague, Cholera, Typhoid Fever, Yellow Fever, Spanish Flu, Ebola and AIDS.

Ryan White: My Own Story by Ryan White

In the 1980s, before AIDS was fully understood, teenager Ryan White, a hemophiliac, contracted the virus through a contaminated blood supply. He was ostracized and threatened by his own community. Fearing their children were at risk for catching AIDS from Ryan, parents and teachers demanded that the school not allow him to attend. Amazing and heartbreaking story of a brave boy.

Red Madness: How a Medical Mystery Changed What We Eat by Gail Jarrow

Before modern transportation made it easy to get food from anywhere in the world and government agencies required food companies to enrich their products, disadvantaged people suffered from deficiency diseases like Scurvy, Ricketts, and Pellagra. After Pellagra hit the United States in the early 1900s, scientists were mystified for 20 years by its exact cause.


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