Epidemics, pandemics and vaccines

1. Epidemic: Ebola and the global race to prevent the next killer outbreak
Wilson, Reid. Brookings, 2018

Wilson writes in the second chapter that “most viruses, viewed under the microscope, have a beauty to them.… The Ebola virus is not beautiful.” This text traces the history of Ebola from its origins to the 2013 outbreak. Unlike previous outbreaks, this one quickly overtook the local health systems of Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia and soon spread beyond the African borders. Deaths included many health care workers, crashing already fragile systems. Relief was not available as the politics of an underfunded World Health Organization came into play. Some countries, however, managed to halt the virus’s progress—due in part to officials’ aggressive efforts beginning with the first confirmed case. In the end, the 2013 Ebola pandemic was the worst in history.
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2. Vaccines did not cause Rachel’s autism: my journey as a vaccine scientist, pediatrician, and autism dad
Hotez, Peter J. Johns Hopkins, 2018

The title of this book indicates the two related aspects that form its subject matter: autism and vaccinations, both of personal concern to the author, a pediatrician whose research centers on tropical pediatrics and vaccine development and the parent of a daughter, Rachel, now some 25 years old, autistic since birth. Descriptions of his daughter’s autistic behavior reveal their overwhelming effect on him and his family, primarily reflecting the love of their daughter despite the consequent drastic changes in their family’s life. His descriptions will be most informative to readers less familiar with the effects of autistic behavior. This compelling background serves as the basis for Hotez’s strong scientific interest in debunking the still-somewhat popular belief that vaccinations should be avoided because they can lead to autism. He cites scientific studies revealing that in areas where these beliefs are prevalent, there exists a significant increase in the number of deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases.
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3. Pathological realities: essays on disease, experiments, and history
Grmek, Mirko D. ed., tr., introd. by Pierre-Olivier Méthot Fordham, 2018

This important interdisciplinary work crosses national, cultural, linguistic, and disciplinary borders to make a positive contribution to the fields of history of medicine and biology, medical humanities, science studies, philosophy of science, and philology. Mirko Grmek (1924–2000), who was trained as a physician and knew more languages than he had fingers, is able to draw on a wide range of primary sources, including laboratory notebooks and unpublished papers of 19th-century physiologist Claude Bernard, among others. Belonging to a generation of scholars whose medical training was essential to the rightful practice of history of medicine, Grmek follows in the footsteps of other great medical historians such as Sigerist, Canguilhem, Ackerknecht, and Edelstein. Grmek casts a wide net from antiquity to the present, and his writing is timely and relevant in areas such as Slavic medicine, medical deontology, social medicine, surgery, physiology, disease concepts, gerontology, pathography, cell theory, Chinese sphygmology, medical geography, disease ecology, epistemology, and quantitative methods of biological sciences.
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4. Outbreak culture: the Ebola crisis and the next epidemic
Sabeti, Pardis. by Pardis Sabeti and Lara Salahi Harvard, 2018

In March of 2014, the single largest Ebola viral outbreak to ever occur began in West Africa. Eventually, over 30,000 people contracted the disease and 17,000 died. Using this outbreak as their background, authors Sabeti (biology, Harvard) and Salahi, a journalist, examine factors which inhibited a unified response to this outbreak. Containing nine chapters, Outbreak Culture presents the results of personal accounts and qualitative research questionnaires of those most closely involved in the outbreak. They discuss factors that hindered the initial response and the impacts of those factors on the eventual number of deaths. The authors consider issues such as the lack of collaboration, the distrust between responding agencies and researchers, and the fear that arose from this lack of communication. The discussion of the Ebola outbreak throughout is presented in the context of outbreak responses in general.
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5. The pandemic century: one hundred years of panic, hysteria, and hubris
Honigsbaum, Mark. W. W. Norton, 2019

The Pandemic Century is a fascinating study of how various societies, international organizations, and scientists have responded to global disease threats. His study covers a broad swath of history including the Spanish flu, AIDS, and Zika. Honigsbaum (University College London) argues that human actions disturb ecological equilibriums and thus lead to the spreading of disease. Medical researchers and scientists, he contends, are so beholden to their assumptions that they often fail to successfully identify and devise strategies for dealing with newly discovered pathogens. The range of topics and the approach make this work ideal for students. The book’s emphasis on the environmental and social causes of disease should engender lively classroom discussion. Honigsbaum argues that while great strides have been made in the ability to fight and contain disease, “we should recognize that this knowledge is constantly giving birth to new fears and anxieties.” Honigsbaum concludes that “as the pandemic century draws to a close, we know better than to trust the pronouncements of experts.”
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6. Stacking the coffins: influenza, war and revolution in Ireland. 1918-19
Milne, Ida. Manchester University Press, 2018

One hundred years after the influenza pandemic of 1918, scholars continue to assess the medical history, public health response, and social impact of the disease. Milne (Maynooth Univ., Belfast), however, is the first to publish a full-length treatise of the 1918 influenza in Ireland, examining the ways the illness politically affected Ireland’s move toward independence; influenced public health decisions and delivery; and radically altered the lives of individual Irish people, still reeling under the trauma of the First World War. Based on Milne’s 2009 doctoral dissertation, this text demonstrates an admirable and comprehensive understanding of previous work on the epidemic, including Alfred Crosby’s benchmark study America’s Forgotten Pandemic (2nd. ed., 2003); Niall Johnson’s Britain and the 1918–19 Influenza Pandemic (2006); and Jeffery Taubenberger’s genetic research of the virus (included in the anthology The Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918–19, edited by Howard Phillips and David Killingray, 2003).
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