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The Fatal Strain: On the Trail of Avian Flu and the Coming Pandemicby Alan Sipress
Synopses & Reviews
A riveting account of why science alone can’t stop the next pandemic
Outbreaks of avian and swine flu have reawakened fears that had lain dormant for nearly a century, ever since the influenza pandemic of 1918 that killed at least 50 million people worldwide. When a highly lethal strain of avian flu broke out in Asia in recent years and raced westward, the Washington Post’s Alan Sipress chased the emerging threat as it infiltrated remote jungle villages, mountain redoubts, and teeming cities. He tracked the virus across nine countries, watching its secrets repeatedly elude the world’s brightest scientists and most intrepid disease hunters. Savage and mercurial, this novel influenza strain—H5N1—has been called the kissing cousin of the Spanish flu and, with just a few genetic tweaks, could kill millions of people. None of us is immune.
The Fatal Strain is a fast-moving account that weaves cultural, political, and scientific strands into a tale of inevitable epidemic. In his vivid portrayal of the struggle between man and microbe, Sipress chronicles the accelerating number of near misses and explores the cruel dynamic that has often made Asia the fountainhead of killer flu strains. Even more than modern medicine, it is chicken smugglers, fighting cock breeders, and witch doctors who could determine the evolution of this viral menace by allowing it to breed and speeding it on its way.
The ease of international travel and the delicate balance of today’s global economy have left the world vulnerable to pandemic in a way the victims of 1918 could never imagine. But it is human failings that may pose the greatest peril. Political bosses in country after country have covered up outbreaks. Ancient customs, like trading in live poultry and the ritual release of birds to earn religious merit, have failed to adapt to the microbial threat. The world’s wealthy countries have left poorer, frontline countries without affordable vaccines or other weapons for confronting the disease, fostering a sense of grievance that endangers us all.
The chilling truth is that we don’t have command over the H5N1 virus. It continues to spread, thwarting efforts to uproot it. And as it does, the viral dice continue to roll, threatening to produce a pandemic strain that is both deadly and can spread as easily as the common cold. Swine flu has reminded us that flu epidemics happen. Sipress reminds us something far worse could be brewing.
"With the current focus on the H1N1, or swine flu, people may have forgotten about the avian flu scare of a few years ago. The deadly avian, or H5N1, flu centered in Asia and garnered similar headlines in 2004, announcing fears of a pandemic. In his first book, Sipress, a writer for the Washington Post, comes bearing the unhappy news that the avian flu threat grows more dire every day (outbreaks reported as recently as this year). Sipress rides shotgun with WHO researchers as they cross Southeast Asia tracking transmission of the disease and trying to persuade recalcitrant governments to report cases of avian flu and cull flocks of thousands of chickens. Yet possibly infected birds continue to be smuggled across borders, and experts say we are not appropriately prepared to combat a pandemic. Sipress writes at a breathless pace at times, and after a while his case histories blend. Remarkably, he makes no mention of the current H1N1 outbreak. But readers interested in public health or who like to stay abreast of all possible looming threats will want to read this." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Like "The Hot Zone" and "The Great Influenza, The Fatal Strain" is a fast-moving account that brings the inevitability of an avian flu epidemic into a fascinating cultural, scientific, and political narrative.
A riveting account of why science alone can't stop the next pandemic.
In 2009, Swine Flu reminded us that pandemics still happen, and award- winning journalist Alan Sipress reminds us that far worse could be brewing. When a highly lethal strain of avian flu broke out in Asia in 2003 and raced westward, Sipress, as a reporter for The Washington Post, tracked the virus across nine countries, watching its secrets elude the world's brightest scientists and most intrepid disease hunters. A vivid portrayal of the struggle between man and microbe, The Fatal Strain is a fast-moving account that weaves cultural, political, and scientific strands into a tale of inevitable pandemic.
A riveting account of why science alone can't stop the next pandemic
When avian flu began spreading across Asia in the early-2000s, it reawakened fears that had lain dormant for nearly a century. During the outbreak's deadliest years, Alan Sipress chased the virus as it infiltrated remote jungle villages and teeming cities and saw its mysteries elude the world's top scientists. In The Fatal Strain, Sipress details how socioeconomic and political realities in Asia make it the perfect petri dish in which the fast-mutating strain can become easily communicable among humans. Once it does, the ease and speed of international travel and worldwide economic interdependence could make it as destructive as the flu pandemic of 1918.
In his vivid portrayal of the struggle between man and microbe, Sipress gives a front-line view of the accelerating number of near misses across Asia and the terrifying truth that the prospects for this impending health crisis may well be in the hands of cockfighters, live chicken merchants, and witch doctors rather than virologists or the World Health Organization.
Like The Hot Zone and The Great Influenza, The Fatal Strain is a fast-moving account that brings the inevitability of an epidemic into a fascinating cultural, scientific, and political narrative.
About the Author
"A grim harrowing account of what is happening--and not happening--in Southeast Asia as countries confront bird flu.
Former Washington Post business editor and foreign correspondent Sipress spent years following human outbreaks of bird flu in mainland China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, cambodia and Indonesia as the disease relentlessly moved west. The culprit was the virulent H5N1 influenza virus, which has ravaged geese, ducks, other wild fowl, the roosters groomed for cockfighting and, most importantly, domestic chickens, transmitting disease to human bird handlers or consumers. Like all flu viruses, H5N1 is quick to mutate or mix genes with other flue viruses, meaning that it can develop resistance to drugs or vaccines. In some places it may have already become asymptomatic in birds, which makes checking the source of a human outbreak, already problematic, even more formidable. The critcal question is when a mutation will ease human-to-human transmission. That will be the takeoff point for a pandemic that will dwarf the mortality of the 1918 flu epidemic. The World Health Organization and other global health leaders, as well as the many epidemiologists and virologists tracking the virus, are convinced that it is not a question of if but when. The reasons vary: the globalization of commerce and travel means that all parts of the world are connected within hours; a growing middle class in developing countries is eating more meat, and poultry conglomerates have risen to meet the need, in some cases conspiring with governments to suppress news of poultry disease and required bird cullings; developing countries are still too poor to cope with epidemic disease or vaccinations. Some have pledged not to cooperate in disease surveillance, blaming the West for taking their virus samples to make drugs or vaccines that are too expensive for them. There is still much to be learned about the virus, and Sipress's Sketches of heroic men and women at the frontlines enrich the narrative, even as he expertly details the obstacles posed when a disease becomes a matter of politics, commerce and culture clash.
Exemplary--and highly frightening--investigative reporting."
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