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“Highlights that influenza is still a real and present threat and demonstrates the power and limitations of modern medicine.” —The Wall Street Journal
“A surprisingly compelling and accessible story of one of the world’s most deadly diseases. It is timely and interesting, engaging and sobering.” —David Gregort, CNN political analyst and former moderator for NBC’s Meet the Press
A veteran ER doctor explores the troubling, terrifying, and complex history and present-day research of the flu virus, from the origins of the Great Flu that killed millions, to vexing questions such as: are we prepared for the next epidemic, should you get a flu shot, and how close are we to finding a cure?
While influenza is now often thought of as a common but mild disease, it still kills more than thirty thousand people in the United States each year. Dr. Jeremy Brown, a veteran ER doctor and director of the Office of Emergency Care Research at the National Institutes of Health, talks with leading epidemiologists, policy makers, and the researcher who first sequenced the genetic building blocks of the original 1918 virus to offer both a comprehensive history and a road map to protect us from the next outbreak.
Dr. Brown explores the terrifying and complex history of the flu virus and looks at the controversy over vaccinations and the federal government’s role in preparing for pandemic outbreaks. Though a hundred years of advancement in medical research and technology have passed since the 1918 disaster, Dr. Brown warns that many of the most vital questions about the flu virus continue to confound even the leading experts.
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 FluTrackers.com, 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 " 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.