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Mark Honigsbaum is a medical historian, journalist, and author of five books, including The Fever Trail: In Search of the Cure for Malaria. He is currently a lecturer at City University of London.

Sisältää nimet: M. HONIGSBAUM, Mark Honigsbaum

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I’ve read a lot of pandemic and infectious diseases books over the last two years, and I have to say that The Pandemic Century is right at the top of the list. What it doesn’t cover in breadth of diseases, it covers in great depth and detail. It’s interesting in the way it combines the science and the public reactions to various outbreaks.

The book opens with the Spanish flu, but it’s the later chapters that really grabbed my interest, simply because they haven’t been covered in other books. There’s the outbreak of plague in California followed by psittacosis and Legionnaire’s disease. (I did not know the story on how it got the name). The other chapters are devoted to more recent and well-known epidemics and pandemics, such as Ebola, SARS, Zika and HIV/AIDS. The chapter on Zika was very interesting because I don’t think it’s been covered in as much detail elsewhere. As is customary with pandemic books these days, this edition (2020) mentions COVID-19 in its early stages. It’s quite encouraging to see how far science has come since then, in terms of research on the disease, vaccines and treatments.

What really sets The Pandemic Century apart is the level of research and detail. If you’re that kind of person, you can entertain friends and family with interesting facts about the diseases and treatment (e.g., Ebola is more likely to cause hiccups than other haemorrhagic diseases, why you should avoid nebulisers with aerosolised disease). The breakthroughs in research as well as the missteps are also well documented, as is the public response to ‘parrot fever’ and the ‘Philly killer’. It can be quite dramatic as the scenario unfolds, but I found this was toned down a lot with the more recent diseases. My only complaint was that my copy has tiny print, so while it was easy to carry round, it was at times difficult to read for long periods. (Although, I did drop the book during chapters to find out more about the diseases – a sure sign of a piqued interest!) This will satisfy the need to read about these diseases in more depth, in an engaging, easy to read fashion.

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birdsam0610 | 3 muuta kirja-arvostelua | Sep 10, 2022 |
I've just finished reading the book "El Dorado": the search for the legendary "Golden Man " or the mother lode of the South American gold that the Incas seemed to have in such abundance. And the plant hunters described in this current book actually covered much the same ground in the Andes and in Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Equador and Brazil. And the themes are similar: rain, mosquitos, heat, freezing cold, and terrible fevers and disease problems. The botanists don't seem to have had quite the same issues with headhunters and starvation as the Spanish gold seekers .......but they also seemed to be much more civilised. (The Spanish modus operandi was to live off the land......looting villages and taking slaves as bearers as they went). But certainly the fevers were a problem.
And I find this interesting because one of the themes of the current book is that the Americas were free of malaria and yellow fever prior to the arrival of Colombus. The theory is that Malaria was endemic in Seville and Barcelona .....the departure points for Colombus and that both malaria (different strains) and yellow fever were imported with African slaves. Sounds plausible ...certainly for the yellow fever: but both must have spread very rapidly in the Americas if it IS true. Columbus arrived in 1492. Cortez invaded Mexico in 1519 and Pizzaro was busy invading and conquering the Incas around 1529.....and they seemed to have been aided by the virulent spread of smallpox. Probably smallpox spread faster than the conquistadores.......certainly that's what happened with the European invasion of Australia. And if it happened with smallpox.......spread person to person...then, presumably, the fevers......spread by mosquitos (and infected hosts) could move even faster.
The gold seekers wasted no time and were active in the period from about 1530 (Nicolaus Federman in Venezuela)...to 1617 (Walter Raleigh in Orinoco). The Cichona plant seekers described in this book were active much later, in the 1800's ...and mostly in the period 1830-1860. The book is split fairly much between the activities of the plant explorers trying to smuggle live plants of cinchona out of South America and into plantations in India (British) and Indonesia (Dutch).
I was especially interested in the debunking of the famous story of the Viceroy's wife being saved by the infusion of the bark of the South American tree and then becoming a champion to introduce the cure into Europe. The fact that she was the Contessa de Chinchon gave the tree its European name. But, much to my confusion......and apparently many others....Linnaeus misspelled Chinchon and named the tree Cinchon. Actually, I have many very fond memories of great lunches with friends in the wine cuevas at Chinchon (which is not far from Madrid). And the town retains the almost medieval square and it's own castle. A lovely place.
Apparently the Jesuits introduced the bark to Europe in 1632 and it became known as the Jesuit's bark...and hence deprecated in protestant Britain....where people refused to use it. Clearly the genus is complicates with some botanists maintaining that there are 23 species and others that there are 15. The basic problem is that (apart from environmental differences which cause differences in growth habit) the plant does not self-fertilise and naturally hybridises. Hence the taxonomy is a mess and the medicinal quality/quantity of the quinine derived from the bark can vary greatly between species.
One of the things that fascinated me about the labours of the various botanists trying to collect cinchona and other new species of plants was the extraordinarily difficult circumstances under which they laboured and the number of collections (the result of years of work) that were lost to shipwreck or other disasters.
. La Condamine about 1742 lost a whole collection of cinchona saplings when a wave washed over his boat near the mouth of the Amazon after a journey from Mt Cajunama in the Andes....Probably about 3000km.
. Joseph de Jussieu spent years (from about 1737...at least until about 1743) collecting botanical specimens and experimenting with different species of cinchona. He entrusted his collection to a servant who disappeared with the lot and was never found.
. Hipolito Ruiz and Jose Pavon spent 7 years penetrating the forests of Peru and Chile collecting specimens; lost their journals and specimens (possibly a local collection) in a fire in 1786 but their main collection was in a ship that was wrecked off the coast of Portugal.
. Hugues Weddell in 1851 ..after 5 months of work danger and expenditure .. found most of his plants dead in the Wardian cases and sickly survivors that were unlikely to make it back to Europe,
. Richard Spruce 1859 after about a year's work in the Andes had 637 plants in Wardian cases. He was coming downriver from Lemon towards Guayaqui when the boat hit a mass of overhanging branches creating chaos but his cases survived.
. Clements Markham in 1860 took charge of Spruce's collection in 15 cases and another 6 for Pritchett's collection....a total of 450 plants. The original plan was for them to go straight to India from Panama but no such luck. They eventually went to India via Southampton (270 plants alive) then Egypt and Red Sea heat plus one case dropped into the sea. By the time they reached the hill station in India all plants were dead.
. Alfred Russell Wallace....after 4 years of work ....with his collection of natural history objects, skins, plants etc. sailed down the Amazon to Manaus and set sail for England in 1852. But 1,000 km from Bermuda his ship caught fire and all his collections were lost. How did these guys recover mentally from these sort of disasters?
Eventually, some of the specimens were grown successfully in plantations in Indonesia and India and elsewhere..and some of the pharmacology worked out ...though the English collectors and plantation managers slipped up with the most potent of the C. calisaya species and were growing a much less potent variety.
There is a big leap in the story then to the production of synthetic drugs for combatting malaria and more recently, molecular and DNA manipulation to develop vaccines.
One thing that the author makes clear is that the plasmodium causing malaria has a complex life cycle that makes it difficult to attack; it occurs in a range of different species and is transmitted by different species of mosquito. And every treatment has been thwarted by the ability of the plasmodium to develop resistance and morph it's genetic makeup. It truly is a tough nut for the medical establishment to crack. And malaria has been a hughe problem on battle fields where malaria has often killed more people than the soldier's guns.
I really enjoyed the book. Was going to give it 4 but on consideration, I give it 5 stars.
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booktsunami | 3 muuta kirja-arvostelua | May 27, 2022 |
The 2020 edition includes the beginning of the Covid 19 pandemic.
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MarthaJeanne | 3 muuta kirja-arvostelua | Apr 26, 2021 |
This book takes an historical look at pandemics, starting with the Spanish Flu and ending with the Zika virus outbreak in 2015. I'm told a later version of the book has been released with a chapter on the current COVID-19 pandemic. I really enjoyed this book. I learned a lot. I didn't know there was a plague outbreak in L.A. in 1924 and had never heard of parrot fever. I also liked reading about the AIDS and SARS pandemics, which I remember well...it gave me a new perspective.

What I struggled with was the author's use of scientific and medical terminology without defining the terms. I spent a fair bit of time on Google while reading some sections. But, all in all, I thought it worth the effort.

The book is, on one hand, terrifying. We learn to deal with one pandemic only to fall prey to another. As humans continue to encroach on wildlife habitats, it seems we will unleash more viruses. And throughout history, we have politicians denying the existence of pandemics and people who refuse to modify behaviours to reduce risk.

On the other hand, the book was comforting. We have survived past pandemics, and we will continue to do so. The dedication of medical researchers -- their intelligence, perseverance and courage --- has always been amazing.
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LynnB | 3 muuta kirja-arvostelua | Nov 3, 2020 |


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