Parasites: Tales of Humanity’s Most Unwelcome Guests

Parasites: Tales of Humanity’s Most Unwelcome Guests sorts 
out the human race’s motley crew of parasitic companions (2010, 
University of California Press). This social and natural history 
explores their earthly haunts: prehistoric kingdoms, tropical jungles,
insect guts, water treatment plants etc. and examines the socially 
and historically important things they are doing there. The reader 
also visits their bodily haunts – their usual turf in intestines, bladders,
skin, muscle, blood, and brains. The two lines of inquiry come together 
to reveal what parasites are really doing in our world. 


​Chapter One:  Ambush

Parasites live on us – or in us – and they make us sick, right? Well sometimes, but not always, and they are not so simple. The other roles they play in our lives are often much more subtle, but they can change history. Have you ever wondered what a parasite might have had to do with the famous Battle of Jericho? Chapter one visits Rahab, the prostitute, in Bronze Age Jericho to ponder what may have been living in her water supply.

From the Middle East we go to Africa in the late 1800s and explore the tsetse belt with famous explorer Henry Morton Stanley, then turn to Southeast Asia and the dangerous labyrinthian Ho Chi Minh Trail during the Vietnam War. Finally, stepping back in time once more, it’s intriguing to consider whether parasites followed in the wake of Captain James Cook as he explored the globe aboard the Resolution.

Chapter Two: Market of Peril

When we think about parasites, we often think in terms of them eating us, or at least parts of us. But it’s also true that we eat them: that’s how many of the parasites that live in people get into people in the first place. Looking back in time, it’s clear that people have been tremendously helpful to many parasites. Even today, we’re making it easy for various parasites to infect more people than ever before! And you thought your food was safe.

In Chapter two, take a walk through the local market and find out how people have added worms to pork, beef, and even greens. Find out why sheep and sheepdogs can be a bad combination for the shepherd, and consider whether raw fish is worth the risk. Have you ever wondered why, exactly, we shouldn’t let flies walk on our food? The giant fly at the market fills you in.

Chapter 3: Drinking Water Advisory

A trip down the North Saskatchewan River, not by boat, but bobbing on a Cryptosporidium parvum oocyst, opens up the world of surface water and water treatment from a parasitic point of view. Our unconventional watercraft reveals why drinking water everywhere is plagued by parasites, and gives us a tour of water treatment from a place a real boat could never go: inside the pipes.

The events of the 2001 cryptosporidiosis outbreak in North Battleford, Saskatchewan have been extensively documented. They reveal just how neatly the natural world, ignorance, human error, and politics can cooperate to deliver our Cryptosporidium oocyst to a susceptible human host.

Click images to enlarge.