One-Minute Book Reviews

May 1, 2009

CDC Projected Death Toll for Flu Pandemic: 89,000 to 207,000 People — Army Estimates That 1.7 Million Americans Could Die

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:08 am
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In 1999 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report on what might happen if a pandemic virus – similar to the relatively mild virus of 1968 – struck the United States. It estimated that between 89,000 and 207,000 people in the U.S. would die. Why so many?

John Barry responds in The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History (Penguin, 2005):

“The reason for this high toll is the same reason that the CDC has concluded that, despite medical advances,  more Americans are now dying from ordinary, endemic influenza than in the past: in 1918, 1957, and even 1968 relatively few people alive had impaired immune systems. Today a large and growing number of people do – primarily the elderly, but also cancer survivors who have undergone chemotherapy or radiation, transplant recipients, those infected with HIV, and others.”

The figures in the first paragraph appear in Barry’s fine book, and his endnotes give their source as “Modeling the Economic Impact of Pandemic Influenza in the United States: Implications for Setting Priorities for Intervention,” by Martin I. Meltzer, Nancy J. Cox, and Keiji Fukuda. (See Figure 2 under “Results – Deaths.”) Meltzer’s paper has other information about the possible scope of a pandemic, including the percentages of deaths expected in different age groups.

Barry also writes that “the World Health Organization estimates that a virus akin to that of 1968 would, in today’s world, kill between 2 million and 7.4 million people worldwide.” The Washington Post reported in 2006 that WHO estimated that a virus akin to that of 1918 would kill 62 million people worldwide.

The CDC’s projected figures are much lower than those in a United States Army War College Program Research Paper “The 1918 Flu Pandemic: Implications for Homeland Security in the New Millennium,” which you can find easily by pasting the phrase in quotations into the Google search bar (though I can’t seem to link to it). That paper puts the estimated death toll for a flu pandemic at 1.7 million Americans.

For more on flu-related books, please follow www.twitter.com/janiceharayda.

April 30, 2009

Could the Swine Flu Pandemic Have Two Waves? Quote of the Day From ‘Flu,’ Gina Kolata’s Account of the 1918 Pandemic

Filed under: Nonfiction,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:22 pm
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Could the latest swine flu outbreak be the first of two waves of the disease? And could the second be deadlier than the one that has just struck? Few medical experts are discussing the possibility publicly. But you might wonder after reading Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It, by Gina Kolata, a science reporter for the New York Times. Kolata writes:

“No one knows for sure where the 1918 flu came from or how it turned into such a killer strain. All that is known is that it began as an ordinary flu but then it changed. It infected people in the spring of 1918, sickening its victims for about three days with chills and fever, but rarely killing them. Then it disappeared, returning in the fall with the power of a juggernaut.

“In retrospect, medical experts talk of the two waves of the 1918 flu. The first was banal, easily forgotten. No one mentioned plagues or germ warfare when the influenza epidemic first arrived. But when it came back, in the second wave, it had turned into something monstrous, bearing little resemblance to what is ordinarily thought of as the flu.”

May 15, 2007

Steven Johnson’s ‘The Ghost Map’: How Two Men Helped to End a Fearsome Epidemic

Filed under: History,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:27 am
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The fascinating true story of a doctor and clergyman who defied the establishment view that cholera was an airborne – not waterborne — disease

The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic – and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World. By Steven Johnson. Riverhead, 299 pp., $26.95.

By Janice Harayda

Did you know that the doctor who gave chloroform to a grateful Queen Victoria during childbirth also helped to end a cholera epidemic? I didn’t. And details like this abound in Steven Johnson’s fascinating history of how two men took on the medical establishment after cholera erupted in London in 1854.

The Ghost Map reads at times like a cross between The Hot Zone with The Professor and the Madman, a medical horror story set in a gaslit city that bred disease and superstition. Johnson begins, unpromisingly, with a dozen pages on the difficulty of human waste disposal in a metropolis that had two million residents. But he quickly gets on top of his story of an epidemic that began when a mother tossed out a slop bucket in which she had soaked a sick baby’s diapers. From then on his book moves swiftly until he tries in the last chapter to extrapolate from cholera to modern threats such as suicide bombers and nuclear winter. This polemical leap is ultimately much less persuasive than what has come before it – a well-told tale of how a doctor and an Anglican curate changed the view of one of the world’s most feared diseases.

Best line: “At the height of a nineteenth-century cholera outbreak, a thousand Londoners would often die of the disease in a matter of weeks – out of a population that was a quarter of the size of modern New York. Imagine the terror and panic if a biological attack killed four thousand otherwise healthy New Yorkers over a twenty-day period. Living amid cholera in 1854 was like living in a world where tragedies on that scale happened week after week, year after year.”

Worst line: Any line that shows Johnson’s promiscuous use of the word “irony,” which he turns into a one-size-fits-all substitute for “sadly,” “oddly,” “coincidentally” or “paradoxically.” For example: “The sad irony of his argument for the waterborne theory of cholera is that he had all the primary medical explanations in place by the winter of 1848–1849, and yet they fell on deaf ears for almost a decade.” That is a sad fact, not a sad “irony.” Would you write, “The sad irony of Jan Harayda’s post on how Mitch Albom is writing at a third-grade level is that she did this on November 16, 2006, and yet it fell on deaf ears for almost five months and Albom continued to sell books at a frightening rate”?

Recommended if … you like popular history, especially books about the history of science or medicine, such as Dava Sobel’s Longitude.

Furthermore: Johnson also wrote Everything Bad Is Good for You.

Editor: Sean McDonald

Published: October 2006

Links: www.stevenberlinjohnson.com

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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