Deadly Companions, By Dorothy H Crawford

An irresistible book on a gruesome topic, this absorbing account of microbes will make you see the world anew. We learn that smallpox killed off the Stuarts and the lice-borne typhus bug R.prowazekii "played a key role" in defeating Napoleon.

Closer to home, Crawford reveals that measles, increasing due to ill-founded fear of the MMR jab, is closely related to the cattle virus rinderpest. It seems to have jumped species during the early farming period, but modern measles evolved less than 200 years ago.

Crawford notes: "The virus still causes serious outbreaks ... in pockets of unvaccinated people." Mortality can reach 40 per cent in malnourished children.

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