The Dog Ear: A book for the flu season
Published: Monday, January 28, 2013
Updated: Monday, January 28, 2013 21:01
The CDC has reported that this is the worst flu season since 2009’s swine flu (H1N1). According to Time Magazine there have been, “22,048 flu cases from Sept. 30 through the end of 2012. By the same time last year, only 849 flu cases had been reported nationwide.” Boston has declared a public health emergency and doctors are urging people to get the flu shot in order to avoid suffering.
While the flu is hitting our country hard, scientists from around the world are resuming their research on a deadlier form of the bird flu. Reported on Thursday by The New York Times, research was halted in 2011 because this form of the bird flu, H5N1, has been modified to make it more contagious in mammals.
Testing was performed on ferrets who were infected with the flu but did not pass it to others. However with some genetic manipulation, a form of H5N1 that can be transmitted through the air has been created. This was alarming because the world could suffer a pandemic if this virus was released.
With the country in a flu epidemic and a pandemic triggering flu being studied in labs, “Spillover” by David Quammen was the perfect book to begin reading this week.
“Spillover” is a nonfiction book that reads like an adventure novel. It is a science book that doesn’t just take place in the lab. Quammen brings his readers along with him in his travels to places such as Australia, Gabon and Bangladesh. This is a scientific report based on a writer’s journey all over the world. At times, it is hard to believe that this is a work of nonfiction.
Quammen’s tone is conversational yet mysterious, bringing an abundance of questions to mind as you read. Why are certain people affected by the disease and not others? Where did the disease come from? How can it be prevented? It is the extensive bibliography in the back of the book that proves Quammen did his research before writing and that this isn’t a topic to be taken lightly. The tagline, “Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic” says it all.
Considering 60% of our diseases come from animals, meaning that they are zoonotic, and scientists are currently manipulating viruses, I think that it is important to have some knowledge on this topic. We are constantly exposed to diseases so why not take the time to learn about something that can negatively affect your well-being?
For those who don’t have any background with this field of science, Quammen’s writing is very easy to understand. He defines scientific terms that he continuously uses and carefully lays out the effect of the disease with background stories from villagers to veterinarians. The speed in which an infectious disease can cause pandemonium in a population simultaneously unearths emotions of both amazement and terror.
While you may think it’s ludicrous for scientists to intentionally make a virus highly contagious, it is also extremely important. The New York Times says that this research is necessary because scientists can then “recognize changes in naturally occurring viruses that are dangerous and signal the need to eradicate infected animal populations.” After reading “Spillover,” you will become a proponent of this scientific research as well. You may also find yourself filled with the feeling of dread every time you spot a bat or rodent. As Quammen says, “The subject of animal disease and the subject of human disease are, as we’ll see, strands of one braided cord.”