Understanding the types of pandemic threats in terms of etiology, means of spread, and control efforts.

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Fenn, Elizabeth A. Pox Americana: the great smallpox epidemic of 1775-82. Hill & Wang, 2001. 370p ISBN 0809078201, $25.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE April 2002

Fenn’s fascinating book covers in detail the events around the epidemic of Variola major (virus causing smallpox) that occurred between 1775 and 1782, during a major part of the Revolutionary War. The epidemic ravaged much of the territory of what is now the US, Canada, and Mexico among whites and, especially Native American tribes, who were particularly susceptible. Those afflicted included missionaries, explorers, fur traders, both British and Continental armies, farmers, and slaves. No one was spared the pestilence. If death did not follow, then the horrible scars of smallpox remained on the person’s face and body. Entire Indian tribes and white villages were decimated by the virus. During the 1930s and 1940s, smallpox vaccination totally eradicated smallpox, as pronounced by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1979. However, new viruses have replaced the scourge of smallpox, notably the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that leads to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). The great smallpox epidemic of 1775-82 has never been explored until now. Fenn (George Washington Univ.) researched the subject thoroughly, using available, often obscure, sources, and provides a detailed account of the onset and results of the epidemic. Summing Up: Highly recommended for epidemiologists and medical and other historians. Lower-division undergraduates through professionals. —A. R. Davis, Johns Hopkins University

Harrison, Mark. Disease and the modern world: 1500 to the present day. Polity, 2004. 270p ISBN 0745628109 pbk, $26.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE February 2005

Harrison (Oxford Univ.) traces the history of infectious diseases from the birth of the modern world around 1500 to the present. He skillfully documents the ways in which diverse economic, political, and social forces such as the rise of capitalism, colonization, and the slave trade helped shape disease patterns in Europe and much of the rest of the world. Harrison discusses how the rise of the modern nation-state was linked closely to the threat of epidemic diseases and compares the efforts of various nations to prevent epidemics. After a brief introduction, the book’s eight chapters describe the history of such diseases as the plague, cholera, smallpox, syphilis, typhus, typhoid, tuberculosis, malaria, influenza, and HIV/AIDS. This thoroughly researched and thought-provoking book is an easy and enjoyable read. It will interest anyone who wants to learn more about how diseases have shaped, and been shaped by, the modern world. An excellent introductory text on the history of disease and medicine, this work is suitable for students in history, political science, and public health. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-level undergraduates through faculty/researchers. —R. M. Mullner, University of Illinois at Chicago

Khan, Ali S. The next pandemic: on the front lines against humankind’s gravest dangers, by Ali S. Khan with William Patrick. PublicAffairs, 2016. 275p bibl index ISBN 9781610395915, $26.99; ISBN 9781610395922 ebook, $12.99.
Reviewed in CHOICE October 2016

The outbreaks of Ebola and Zika may have hogged the headlines in recent years, but these are not the only threats to worldwide health. Khan (Univ. of Nebraska), formerly a member of the Epidemic Intelligence Service, describes the most notorious, recent infectious diseases and discusses their potential virulence and their ability to spread. Most of these diseases (e.g., Ebola) originate as zoonotic infections carried by a variety of animals living in close proximity to humans. Respiratory infections, a variety of influenza strains, and coronaviruses, which originate in animals and can spread to humans, are all easily transmittable. Most of these diseases derive from the Middle East or Far East, but the ease of travel allows movement anywhere within the span of a few hours or days. The author’s examples include local outbreaks: e.g., hantaviruses, observed in the Four Corners region of the US, are far more common than initially thought. Khan’s medical history of the outbreaks sets the story apart from the innumerable recent books on the same topic. The work contains many references. Summing Up: Recommended. All readers. —R. Adler, University of Michigan, Dearborn

McKay, Richard A. Patient zero and the making of the AIDS epidemic. Chicago, 2017. 432p bibl index ISBN 9780226063812, $105.00; ISBN 9780226063959 pbk, $35.00; ISBN 9780226064000 ebook, $35.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE July 2018

After conducting and recording 52 interviews and exhaustively reviewing primary source materials and a wealth of literature on the subject, McKay (Univ. of Cambridge) successfully corrects the record regarding the so-called “patient zero” of the AIDS epidemic. Gaétan Dugas, a French Canadian transatlantic Air Canada flight attendant who died of AIDS in 1984, was widely believed to be the individual who first introduced the human immunodeficiency virus into the United States and Canada. The author explains the misuse and misunderstanding of the term “patient zero,” discusses different origin theories covering central Africa and Haiti, and examines the social and cultural aspects of the early North American AIDS epidemic from approximately 1981 to 1996. Particularly powerful are his critiques of R. Shilts’s often-cited bestseller And the Band Played On (1987), which depicted Dugas as an extremely promiscuous, even malicious, conduit of the disease. McKay also humanizes Dugas by presenting the perspectives of his friends, colleagues, former lover, healthcare providers, and others. The text contains detailed footnotes on almost every page, selected black-and-white photographs, a list of oral history interviews, and an extensive bibliography and index. This is an authoritative, corrective resource on the early history of the AIDS epidemic. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals. —E. R. Paterson, emeritus, SUNY College at Cortland

McKenna, Maryn. Beating back the devil: on the front lines with the disease detectives of the Epidemic Intelligence Service. Free Press, 2004. 303p ISBN 0743251326, $26.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE March 2005

Periodically the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recruits and trains dedicated health professionals for the front lines in the war against infectious diseases. These professionals become members of the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS), responsible for identifying and fighting epidemics in the US and around the world. McKenna, an award-winning science and medical writer, provides the first comprehensive snapshot of the CDC’s “shoe-leather epidemiology” division. Using a powerful, pleasant, and captivating style, the author presents the experiences of the 2002-2003 EIS class and the lessons of 11 major epidemics handled with professionalism, creativity, and passion by EIS people. The US examples include the 1955 polio outbreak following immunizations, discovery of AIDS in 1981, the 1999-2000 tuberculosis epidemic in Baltimore and New York, and the bioterrorist attacks of 2001. The international examples include the control of smallpox in Bangladesh in 1972, cholera caused by the 1994 war in Rwanda, malaria’s devastating effects in Malawi, and the 2003 worldwide SARS epidemic. Well written and well documented, this book is based on materials gathered from 195 staff interviews and 194 public health publications. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-level undergraduates and above; general readers. —A. B. Wallis, University of Iowa

Quammen, David. Spillover: animal infections and the next human pandemic. W. W. Norton, 2012. 587p ISBN 9780393066807, $28.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE May 2013

Science journalist/author Quammen (The Reluctant Mr. Darwin, CH, Jun’07, 44-5638; Monster of God, CH, Feb’04, 41-3448) delivers an intriguing narrative describing zoonotic diseases that result when pathogens “jump” from animals to humans. The text is rich with personal field experiences, vivid commentary on the search for reservoir hosts, and descriptions of ecological disruptions that play a role in the transmission of these diseases. Nine chapters engage the reader in a journey that is compelling, gripping, and informative without being sensational. The author understands complex scientific research and interprets research findings in a perceptive and measured way. This is a well-researched, insightful book that provides a framework for understanding the interplay of biological, cultural, and ecological forces that contribute to “spillover” diseases. The clear, powerful text presents a unique opportunity for a wide readership to understand the science behind many of the exotic epidemics. Numerous notes and bibliographic citations; user-friendly index. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through researchers/faculty, general readers, and public health officials. —D. C. Anderson, Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences

Scott, Susan. Biology of plagues: evidence from historical populations, by Susan Scott and Christopher J. Duncan. Cambridge, 2001. 420p ISBN 0521801508, $100.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE September 2001

The great flu epidemic of 1918 killed an estimated 40 million people worldwide. Yet, as we look at our knowledge of past and present plagues, such as the Black Death and AIDS, to inform us on how to prevent or effectively respond to future plagues, we realize there are major gaps in our understanding of these events. Scott (Univ. of Liverpool) and Duncan (emer., Univ. of Liverpool) present a new perspective on plagues of the past, particularly those in Europe in the period 1300-1650. Using an innovative interdisciplinary approach, which combines epidemiology, molecular biology, and modern computer modeling, the authors make the case that the European plagues were not outbreaks of bubonic disease but were more likely viral in nature. The authors systematically present data that undermines the thesis that Yersinia pestis, the bacteria that causes bubonic disease, was the cause of the European plagues. The methodology described has important implications for understanding biological and epidemiology processes and assisting society in better responding to future plagues. Summing Up: This book is written in a scientific style and will interest professionals and graduate students in the biological, medical, and social sciences. —R. L. Jones, Pennsylvania State University, Hershey Medical Center

Haggett, Peter. The geographical structure of epidemics. Oxford, 2000. 149p ISBN 0198233639, $72.00; ISBN 0199241457 pbk, $35.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE September 2001

The recent epidemic of foot and mouth disease in Britain and concerns that it might spread to the US highlight the importance of geographical studies of disease. Haggett (emer., geography, Univ. of Bristol, UK) provides a concise survey of the field. This is the written version of four lectures Haggett presented to inaugurate the Clarendon Lectures in Geography and Environmental Studies at Oxford University. He emphasizes the use of maps and various types of models to understand the origins, dispersal, spread, and containment of epidemic diseases. The presentation is sufficiently general to be accessible to nonspecialists, and the topics covered should interest many biologists as well as geographers. The chapter on island epidemics, in particular, explores phenomena that have been longstanding issues in ecology and evolutionary biology, as well as biogeography. The chapter on the origin of epidemics also provides some valuable insights into the evolution of disease, although the recent development of molecular phylogenetic analysis is only briefly discussed. As Haggett acknowledges, studies in molecular evolution will likely revolutionize our understanding of the origins of various diseases. Summing Up: Recommended reading for upper-division and graduate students and faculty interested in the geographical study of disease. —J. B. Hagen, Radford University

Snowden, Frank M. Epidemics and society: from the black death to the present. Yale, 2019. 582p bibl index ISBN 9780300192216, $40.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE April 2020

Snowden (emer., Yale Univ.) has created neither a textbook nor an original research work. Instead, he has distilled the content of his former undergraduate course into a very useful, wide-ranging review of the multiple connections between epidemic disease and historical change and development. Even a book of this length must be selective, however, and Snowden focuses on the industrial West and a limited group of epidemic diseases, including plague and tuberculosis. His handling of the connection between disease events and wars, revolutions, and social dislocation makes the case, already well-established in other, individual works, that epidemic disease is never an isolated event. Influenza, the deadliest pandemic of the 20th century, merits only several brief references to the “Spanish Lady” of 1918–19. But many epidemiologists consider influenza one of the greatest future pandemic threats, and so one could wish for more detail here. Similarly, the discussion of bubonic plague in San Francisco in the first years of the 20th century could have included more on the link between public health measures and anti-Chinese views. Selectivity is inevitable, however, and Snowden’s selections make sense. The result is a very readable book. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers. —J. H. Barker, Converse College

Webster, Robert G. Flu hunter: unlocking the secrets of a virus. Otago University Press, 2018. 222p bibl index ISBN 9781988531311 pbk, $35.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE May 2019

Webster, a renowned virologist who devoted his career to studying influenza pandemics, has written a compelling and accessible account of the influenza virus. Flu Hunter guides the reader through the mechanisms of the virus and describes its unique genome reassortment, which allows it to evolve every season. The narrative takes us from the Great Barrier Reef to Canada, Delaware Bay, and China to demonstrate how scientists discovered influenza strains in birds and how strains can move from one species to another. Throughout the story, Webster emphasizes the international efforts of scientists who collaborated on important discoveries. Central to the story is the flu of 1918; Webster discusses how tissue samples were gathered from influenza victims buried in the permafrost and the valuable information obtained from them. Compelling as well is Webster’s commentary on the societal and historical ramifications of influenza—from its spread during WW I to the more recent H1N1 pandemic of 2009 and the H5N1 migration though poultry farms of China. Based on the outbreak of several influenza pandemics in history, Flu Hunter reveals that another pandemic could happen at any time. An excellent read for anyone interested in influenza history. Summing Up: Recommended. All readers. —M. C. Pavao, Worcester State University