Mary's Library

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Avian Flu

There’s a wonderful old black and white Elia Kazan movie starring Richard Widmark called “Panic in the Streets,” which is about the arrival of pneumonic plague in New Orleans. Widmark, playing a US Public Health Service doctor, has to warn people, inoculate them, and convince them to report any suspicious symptoms. But more importantly he has to prevent panic. An unenviable job.

Mike Davis’ book, The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu (©2005) suggests that our communities are going to need lots of folks like Widmark's doctor in the next few years as avian flu or some other influenza virus breaks loose and becomes vicious and pandemic.

In addition to the attraction of the book’s 1950s-style murder mystery cover featuring a rabid-looking chicken, the book appeals to me because Davis writes so lucidly. He achieves an appropriate degree of urgency and provocation.

I bought the book because a reviewer said the first chapter, explaining what viruses are and why they mutate so easily, was the best such description he had ever seen anywhere. I agree. You can’t judge the seriousness of the flu problem unless you understand how viruses work.

Davis helps you comprehend how and where influenza is engendered among pigs and waterfowl, how it is spread, and why bird flu is more scary than other flu viruses. After reading this book you can decide for yourself just how dangerous influenza is and is going to be and what you need to be doing about it.


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