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Deadly Outbreaks: How Medical Detectives Save Lives Threatened by Killer Pandemics, Exotic Viruses, and Drug-Resistant Parasites [Hardcover]

Alexandra Levitt

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Book Description

Sept. 1 2013 1626360359 978-1626360358
Despite advances in health care, infectious microbes continue to be a formidable adversary to scientists and doctors. Vaccines and antibiotics, the mainstays of modern medicine, have not been able to conquer infectious microbes because of their amazing ability to adapt, evolve, and spread to new places. Terrorism aside, one of the greatest dangers from infectious disease we face today is from a massive outbreak of drug-resistant microbes.

Deadly Outbreaks recounts the scientific adventures of a special group of intrepid individuals who investigate these outbreaks around the world and figure out how to stop them. Part homicide detective, part physician, these medical investigators must view the problem from every angle, exhausting every possible source of contamination. Any data gathered in the field must be stripped of human sorrows and carefully analyzed into hard statistics.

Author Dr. Alexandra Levitt is an expert on emerging diseases and other public health threats. Here she shares insider accounts she’s collected that go behind the alarming headlines we’ve seen in the media: mysterious food poisonings, unexplained deaths at a children’s hospital, a strange neurologic disease afflicting slaughterhouse workers, flocks of birds dropping dead out of the sky, and drug-resistant malaria running rampant in a refugee camp. Meet the resourceful investigators—doctors, veterinarians, and research scientists—and discover the truth behind these cases and more.

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Product Description


Alexandra Levitt has produced a wonderfully crafted series of stories on how real-world epidemiologists practice the art and science of disease outbreak detection, investigation, and response. ....all (chapters) offer fascinating insights into the thought process used by medical detectives and present the back stories that are found in all investigations but don't appear in journal publications. Dr. Levitt pays homage to the creativity, ingenuity, and dogged determination that are the hallmarks of all successful shoe-leather epidemiologists. It is written in the finest tradition of medical literature. Anyone with even a passing interest in disease investigation will find Deadly Outbreaks to be a great read. So too will all practitioners of public health, from students contemplating a career in epidemiology to the most seasoned veteran. --Stephen Ostroff, M.D., Former Deputy Director, National Center for Infectious Diseases, CDC and Former Director, Bureau of Epidemiology, Pennsylvania Department of Health

About the Author

Dr. Alexandra Levitt is a health scientist at the CDC who began her scientific career as a research scientist at New York University Medical School. During a fellowship year as an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Diplomacy Fellow assigned to the US Department of State, Dr. Levitt coordinated a government-wide review of the global health and security threat posed by emerging infectious diseases. Since joining the CDC in 1995, she has prepared policy reports on global health, bioterrorism, and pandemic influenza, and drafted critical case studies of large and unusual outbreak responses, including the 1994 outbreak of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome in the United States.; the 1994 outbreak of plague in India; and the 1995 outbreak of Ebola hemorrhagic fever in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). Dr. Levitt resides in Brooklyn, New York.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.8 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent collection of detective stories Jan. 27 2014
By David - Published on
While there have been notable books about public health for sometime (e.g. "The Hot Zone" and "The Coming Plague"), I've noticed an upsurge in interest lately. Quite a few of my friends have been reading books such as "The Ghost Map", about a famous cholera outbreak in London, and "The American Plague," about solving the mystery of yellow fever's transmission.

Now, add to that "Deadly Outbreaks" by Dr. Levitt. If the above mentioned books can be compared to a novel, think about this book as a collection of short stories. As previous reviewers have mentioned, you will likely know the basics about a couple of the stories, while many of them will be new to you. The narrative ranges from a disease in New York putting multiple patients into the ICU to a deadly outbreak in the deserts of New Mexico. Though obviously a shorter story necessarily sacrifices some depth, the use of multiple stories allows for a layering effect that leads to a better appreciation of both the hard work and sheer luck involved in these investigations.

There is the excitement of a good mystery, solved using the latest in scientific principles; but, there is also something deeper, namely an elucidation of the complex processes that go into the work of these disease detectives. While I've read previous books that make an attempt at this, "Deadly Outbreaks" is the first book that really makes me feel as though I understand the fundamental methods of a modern public health investigation (at a very basic level of course). At the same time, I never felt as though the narrative degenerated into a morass of medical jargon. You will learn some basic public health terminology, but more as a way of allowing you deeper into the narrative, rather than for show.

I would recommend this to both those who are new to the subject, as well as those looking for a new perspective on public health investigations. Enjoy!
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating scientific detective work described in detail Nov. 29 2013
By kenn - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Lots of fascinating background on the detective work of modern scientists.

I enjoyed the science and was impressed by the amount of sheer work invested in solving these mysterious diseases. The lucky moments, the ultimate success of persistence, the evolution of scientific tools — all these fascinated me. The degree to which pathogen experts see the world through a pathogen lens seemed telling. I was less interested in the background information on individual scientists. I suspect that's exactly the opposite reaction of many readers who will love the humanizing effect of knowing where a scientist went to college, and who they married and a bit about hobbies and children and careers.

The narrative voice got stronger as the book progressed, so I encourage the casual reader to press onward if they start to feel overwhelmed early. The occasional use of less common vocabulary and numerous abbreviations may discourage some readers. Do you know what an abattoir is without looking it up? I didn't. For me, that's fun; a new word to learn. To some, it may not be fun and they'll wonder why the author didn't just say "slaughterhouse," which all her readers would know. It doesn't happen often, and didn't really detract. I just noticed it.

I absolutely recommend this book for anyone interested in science or disease. I'm sure that, just like me, you'll learn some interesting details about health scares you've heard about, and some you haven't.

Kenn Amdahl, author of "Revenge of the Pond Scum: Searching for the causes of Alzheimer's Disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and Parkinson's Disease"
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Real-life thrills in the battle against infectious disease outbreaks Sept. 24 2013
By Amy R. - Published on
ScienceThrillers review: Dr. Alexandra Levitt narrates the true stories of seven medical mysteries solved by field epidemiologists, investigators for the CDC's Epidemic Intelligence Service. These stories demonstrate the importance, danger, and excitement of public health efforts to understand infectious disease outbreaks and other disease clusters. Levitt unashamedly admits that one goal of this book is to inspire young people to consider careers in public health.

On that count, Deadly Outbreaks succeeds. Put this book in the hands of a high schooler who already is thinking about a STEM career and you might make a convert.

Personally, I love this stuff. Several of these stories I'd heard before (the Sin Nombre virus, Legionnaire's Disease) but I was delighted to read in more detail about the scientist/physician/detectives who actually were on the ground in the center of these outbreaks, trying to assemble the knowledge needed to stop the deaths. Most of the tales were new to me and carried a lot of emotional impact. Babies dying in a Canadian hospital. Laborers paralyzed by work in a pig slaughterhouse.

This is a fascinating book, easy to read in one chapter pieces, perfect for the bedside table. It's competently written but it doesn't have the narrative genius of a Malcolm Gladwell or Mary Roach popular science book. It also has a fair amount of real science in it. Thus I recommend this book for science thriller fans, but it might not appeal to readers who do not have a pre-existing interest in the subject matter.

FCC disclaimer: An advance reader copy of this book was given to me for review. As always, I made no guarantee that I would read the book or post a positive review.

If you like Deadly Outbreaks, you might like:
The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance by Laurie Garrett; Microbe Hunters by Paul de Kruif; The Hot Zone: A Terrifying True Story by Richard Preston; The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson, and of course the movie Contagion [HD].
4.0 out of 5 stars Exciting reading Feb. 11 2014
By Merrie D Magnuson - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is an exciting and well-written book about the little-known people behind the scenes who solve medical mysteries.
A must- read for those interested in public health.

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