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MelindaB

Reading Maketh a Full Man...

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Currently reading

The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature (Canto)
C.S. Lewis
Boys and Girls Learn Differently!: A Guide for Teachers and Parents
Michael Gurian, Terry Trueman, Patricia Henley
Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet
Christian Wiman
Deep River: The Life and Music of Robert Shaw
Keith C. Burris
Daring, Trusting Spirit
John De Gruchy
The Vatican Diaries: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Power, Personalities, and Politics at the Heart of the Catholic Church
John Thavis
The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia
Orlando Figes

The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History

The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History - John M. Barry I highly recommend this book! It reads like a "who-done-it", except that you know who did it (the influenza virus) and you are watching the medical scientists struggle to find solutions while the wild-fire of the 1918 influenza pandemic raged all around them. Will they find a solution in time? (see the bottom paragraph for an answer to this question)Before documenting the path of the 1918 influenza, the author lays the groundwork for the transformed medical atmosphere from the late 1800's into the early 1900's in America. This path thus shows the beginnings of the the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, the Phipps Institute, and Johns Hopkins University. Names of medical pioneers and influenza warriors such as Paul Lewis (who proved that polio was caused by a virus in 1907 and developed a vaccine that was 100% effective in protecting monkeys), William Henry Welch (the single most powerful individual in the history of American medicine, who directed the rise of Johns Hopkins University, and who with John D. Rockefeller Jr. created the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, arguablly the best scientific research institute in the world), Simon Flexner (first head of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, the man who brought the mortality rate for common bacterial meningitis down to 18% in 1919 WITHOUT antibiotics!), Rufus Cole (who made the Rockefeller Institute Hospital a model for the way clinical research is conducted), Army Surgeon General William Gorgas (whose work in abating the transmission of yellow fever and malaria by controlling the mosquitos saved hundreds of thousands of lives, and allowed construction on the Panama Canal), Oswald Avery (whose work on influenza would lead him to one of the most important scientific discoveries in the 20th century, that DNA is the material of which genes and chromosomes are made), Anna Wessel Williams (the leading female bacteriologist in the world who worked hand in hand with William Park trying to develop a serum or vaccine for influenza),William Park (teamed with Anna Wessel Williams, developed the diptheria antitoxin still in use today), andRichard Shope (who as the first to prove that a virus caused influenza) fill the pages of this book. After setting the stage with its influenza warriors and medical laboratories, the author then begins the saga of the influenza virus itself. Influenza struck in the first wave in the winter and spring of 1918, a mild "three day fever" form that most recovered from. The second wave hit in the fall of 1918. This wave was the most virulent and deadly. The third wave hit somewhere in the winter / spring of 1919, and was once again a less virulent form. In just 2 years the virus mutated into a super killer, then back into a more mild disease. In raw numbers, the lowest estimate of the worldwide death toll at the time was 20 million. Knowing what we know now, epidemiologists today estimate that influenza caused at least 50 million and possibly 100 million deaths worldwide. All that in a time when the population of the world was 1/3rd of what it is today. The terrifying aspect of the super killer influenza was that it did not strike the traditional victims... the old and the very young, but instead hit hardest in the age group of 20's and 30's. If the upper estimate of 100 million deaths is accurate, then 8 to 10 percent of all young adults then living were killed by the virus.And these deaths happened with blinding speed. The influenza pandemic stretched out over 2 years. But 2/3rds of the deaths occurred in a period of 24 weeks. That is about 66 million deaths in 24 weeks. Averaged out that would be 2.5 million deaths per week. Yet more than half of those 66 million deaths happened from mid-September to early December of 1918. That is really 33 million deaths in 10 to 12 weeks! That's 3.3 MILLION deaths PER WEEK in the late fall and early winter of 1918! And remember that the world population at the time was less than 1/3rd of what it is today (which is 6.8 billion people). The numbers are just staggering, and I had to keep reading them and figuring out the numbers and it still is a staggering thought. So many died in so short a time! Epidemiological evidence from the work of Dr. Loring Miner seems to show that the new influenza virus originated in Haskell County, Kansas early in the winter of 1918. Dr. Miner documented early cases of the new influenza that showed disturbing mortality rates in a very short period of time. The virus then went to a huge army base in the eastern part of the state as troops were gathered in preparation for their deployment to Europe for WWI. From that army base, soliders were sent to France, soldiers were transferred to other bases in the United States....and the disease began sweeping through North America, Europe, South America, Asia, Africa, and the entire world. Some situations requiring fast decision making in chaotic circumstances were carried out well. Other situations were not handled as well. The ins and outs of these crossing paths of decisions, deaths mounting rapidly, politics, mililtary directives, and newly formed medical laboratories make up the rest of the book. The story is staggering, but gripping. In answer to the question at the beginning of this review, the answer is "no, the medical scientists did not find a solution during the time of the 1918 thru 1920 influenza pandemic". They learned alot, yes. They also learned that the only way to be protected from the disease was through isolation from it. Medical practices helping and treating the ill were improved, but a vaccine was never been found. The only reason the killing influenza stopped killing was because it mutated away from the more virulent form into a milder form. So the question immediately to ask is "what happens if the virus mutates back to the virulent form?". And that is the question we are left with at the end of the book. In the concluding chapter, the author raises these issues and concludes tentatively that in pandemic times, an authorized power (government, World Health Organization, army, someone) must have the authority to act and to act quickly, and their decisions must trump individual freedoms. Mandatory vaccinations, mandatory quaranatine, mandatory travel restrictions are the things that must be done to protect the larger population. The "needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one", if I may quote a Star Trek movie. In times of such overwhelming medical need, quick decisions must be made and sometimes they must be harsh.