On the 100th anniversary of the devastating pandemic of 1918, Jeremy Brown, a veteran ER doctor, explores the troubling, terrifying, and complex history 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 and mild disease, it still kills over 30,000 people in the US each year. Dr. Jeremy Brown, currently Director of Emergency Care Research at the National Institutes of Health, expounds on the flu's deadly past to solve the mysteries that could protect us from the next outbreak. In Influenza, he 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 roadmap for understanding what’s to come.
Dr. Brown digs into the discovery and resurrection of the flu virus in the frozen victims of the 1918 epidemic, as well as the bizarre remedies that once treated the disease, such as whiskey and blood-letting. Influenza also breaks down the current dialogue surrounding the disease, explaining the controversy over vaccinations, antiviral drugs like Tamiflu, and the federal government’s role in preparing for pandemic outbreaks. Though 100 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.
Influenza is an enlightening and unnerving look at a shapeshifting deadly virus that has been around long before people—and warns us that it may be many more years before we are able to conquer it for good.
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.