Smallpox: The Death of a Disease: The Inside Story of Eradicating a Worldwide Killer

Donald Ainslie Henderson, Author, Richard Preston, Foreword by Prometheus Books $27.98 (334p) ISBN 978-1-59102-722-5
In his introduction, The Hot Zone author Preston points to the fact that ""in smallpox's last hundred years,"" 1879-1979, it killed more people than ""all the wars on the planet during that time."" For more than 50 years, doctor and public health expert Henderson combated the disease, first as director of the Center for Disease Control's Epidemic Intelligence Service, then (from 1965 on) as director of the World Health Organization initiative which would later be known as The Eradication. Henderson provides an overview of the painful disease, ""a monster"" that killed roughly a third of the unimmunized it infected. Chillingly, ""variolation,"" the direct subcutaneous injection of a patient's pus into a healthy person, was used to spur immunity from before the 10th century. The much safer cowpox vaccination was discovered in 1796 (mandated by Washington for the Continental army); meanwhile, smallpox had decimated the Native American population. Henderson's ""surveillance and containment strategy"" would indeed eradicate smallpox globally; India, the last holdout, was rid of it in 1974 by 115,000 health workers, dispatched to villages throughout the country to identify, quarantine, and vaccinate. This inspiring achievement makes a stirring read for medical history fans, though readers of Preston may find it a bit dry.
Reviewed on: 06/01/2009
Release date: 06/01/2009
Genre: Nonfiction
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