cover image Influenza: The Hundred Year Hunt to Cure the Deadliest Disease in History

Influenza: The Hundred Year Hunt to Cure the Deadliest Disease in History

Jeremy Brown. Touchstone, $26.99 (242p) ISBN 978-1-5011-8124-5

Brown, director of the Office of Emergency Care Research at the National Institutes of Health, marks the 100th anniversary of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic with this no-nonsense account of medicine’s long battle against influenza. Brown recounts the “epic effort” in the 1990s to resurrect and genetically decode the Spanish flu, which, in addition to triggering concern that “all this tinkering was creating superviruses,” underscored influenza’s elusiveness. As an experienced ER doctor, he also offers plain advice on dealing with the virus, such as, “If you are a healthy person with run-of-the-mill flu, you should not ask for antibiotics,” since “antibiotics don’t fight viruses.” Shifting perspective from professional physician to epidemiologist, he discusses the failure of big data to signal flu outbreaks and reviews strategies for early flu detection including Google Flu Trends and, saying, “The influenza virus, a most primitive organism, seems to run circles around our advanced technology.” Critical of the pharmaceutical lobby’s role in creating flu scares, and skeptical of the U.S.’s “[flu] vaccination for all” policy, Brown, with his clear message that human intellect is no match for viral ingenuity, adds a grim note to the stockpile of books on influenza. Agent: Michael Palgon, the Palgon Co. (Dec.)