In 2009, Swine Flu reminded us that pandemics still happen, and award- winning journalist Alan Sipress reminds us that far worse could be brewing. When a highly lethal strain of avian flu broke out in Asia in 2003 and raced westward, Sipress, as a reporter for The Washington Post, tracked the virus across nine countries, watching its secrets elude the world's brightest scientists and most intrepid disease hunters. A vivid portrayal of the struggle between man and microbe, The Fatal Strain is a fast-moving account that weaves cultural, political, and scientific strands into a tale of inevitable pandemic.
With the current focus on the H1N1, or swine flu, people may have forgotten about the avian flu scare of a few years ago. The deadly avian, or H5N1, flu centered in Asia and garnered similar headlines in 2004, announcing fears of a pandemic. In his first book, Sipress, a writer for the Washington Post, comes bearing the unhappy news that the avian flu threat grows more dire every day (outbreaks reported as recently as this year). Sipress rides shotgun with WHO researchers as they cross Southeast Asia tracking transmission of the disease and trying to persuade recalcitrant governments to report cases of avian flu and cull flocks of thousands of chickens. Yet possibly infected birds continue to be smuggled across borders, and experts say we are not appropriately prepared to combat a pandemic. Sipress writes at a breathless pace at times, and after a while his case histories blend. Remarkably, he makes no mention of the current H1N1 outbreak. But readers interested in public health or who like to stay abreast of all possible looming threats will want to read this.