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Deadly Outbreaks: How Medical Detectives Save Lives Threatened by Killer Pandemics, Exotic Viruses, and Drug-Resistant Parasites Hardcover – Sep 1 2013
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"Levitt, a scientist with the Centers for Disease Control, portrays epidemiologists as disease detectives who tirelessly hunt for clues and excel at deductive reasoning. Even Sherlock Holmes would be proud of this astute group of professionals."―Booklist
"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. ... Anyone with even a passing interest in disease investigation will find Deadly Outbreaks to be a great read."―Stephen Ostroff, MD, Former Deputy Director, National Center for Infectious Diseases, CDC, and Former Director, Bureau of Epidemiology, Pennsylvania Department of Health
"This terrific book allows us to experience 'shoe-leather' epidemiology at its very best. From the extraordinary detection of West Nile Virus in New York City to the control of drug-resistant malaria in the tropics, this endlessly fascinating book explores the world of epidemiologists at the front line in the global war against outbreaks, pandemics, and never- before-seen deadly pathogens. ... This is an extraordinary read!"―Matt Boulton, MD, MPH, Professor of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, University of Michigan, School of Public Health
"These are gripping, suspenseful stories that are exceptionally well-written and highly instructive. Public health practitioners and students will benefit from the hard-won victories of epidemiologists described here, and in my opinion, one can hardly hope to learn important lessons for the future in a more enjoyable way...."
―Don Hopkins, MD, MPH, Vice President of Health Programs at The Carter Center (from the Foreword to Deadly Outbreaks)
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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!
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"
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].
A must- read for those interested in public health.
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