Monday, May 07, 2007

#31 - The Flu by Gina Kolata

The full title of this book is "The Flu: the Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It.''

The Flu pandemic of 1918 killed more than 40 million people world-wide. It wasn't just the weak, old and very young who were dying. The strain was incredibly virulent, killing healthy adults in mere days. In some Alaskan villages, 90% of the population died from the flu in 1918.

Kolata outlines the history behind the flu outbreak, and the history of research to prevent another devastating flu pandemic. Several times scientists have gone in search of the 1918 virus. In 1952, victims of the 1918 outbreak were exhumed in Alaska. Permafrost had preserved the bodies so that lung tissue could be harvested in hopes of creating a vaccine to prevent any future outbreaks of that particular strain of flu, and also to research why it was so devastating. Those initial attempts to replicate the virus were unsuccessful. In more recent years, preserved tissue was tested again. With modern testing equipment, more was learned about the 1918 flu virus than ever before.

The book gives interesting facts about how viruses mutate, how diseases like the flu can be transmitted from humans to pigs and birds, and vice versa. It also delves into more recent history such as the 1976 Swine Flu scare and how the federal immunization program caused more problems than it solved. And Kolata gives information about the flu strain that's being called "bird flu'' and how it can be traced back to the same virus that caused the 1918 flu and Swine Flu.

I don't have a medical background, but this book was still very interesting to me. Kolata definitely did a lot of research for this book, and the information is presented in an easily readable interesting format. It definitely brings to light how much history can be used in combination with medical research and testing to help understand and prevent or contain possible devastating pandemics in the future. The more scientists come to understand the flu virus and how it mutates and resurfaces in different strains, the better chance we have to avoid another catastrophe on the scale of the 1918 flu.

50 Book Challenge 2007: 11/50


Blogger Lucy said...

Forgot to tell you that I missed your book reviews...glad to see you doing them again.

8:24 AM  

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